The Comfort, Stretch and Panic Model, Made Simple
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I’ve been seeing a lot of posts about the comfort, stretch and panic model over the last couple of weeks. Some of them, seem to me to make the concept more complicated than it needs to be so I thought I would put together my take on this and keep it simple and useable for any rider.
So, let’s look at what’s going on in each of the three zones.
Everyone’s comfort zone will be slightly different varying from riding a familiar horse quietly in an arena, through jumping a track at a certain height to galloping freely in an open space. Whatever your comfort zone is, it’s basically where you feel ‘comfortable’, unchallenged, relaxed and probably pretty confident.
From a neuro-psychological and physiological point of view, when in your comfort zone, your anxiety/fear responses are unaroused and your stress hormones are within normal limits.
When in your comfort zone, learning opportunities are limited. However, it is a very useful place for consolidating learning and practicing and rehearsing existing skills.
There is no rule which says that you must ride outwith your comfort zone but if you choose to remain there then it’s unlikely that you’ll make any significant progress or develop as a rider.
Your stretch zone is where a lot of good stuff happens and generally it has a gradient from feeling very comfortable to feeling very uncomfortable! So it’s important to be aware of how you’re feeling and to manage your stretching to a level which you can handle.
When a client is feeling very nervous and generally struggling with their confidence, I generally suggest that a good place to stretch is along the border of your comfort and stretch zones. In this area you’re just stretching a little, nothing too demanding or too stress inducing just challenging yourself by doing something new.
With a client who is less anxious but perhaps, worried about what others might be thinking or experiencing a period of self doubt then they might well be able to tolerate being further out into the stretch zone. Everyone is different.
In the stretch zone you’re likely to be aware of some sensations associated with your normal stress reaction brought on by that cocktail of hormones your body naturally produces when it’s under stress. Remember, that this is absolutely normal and experienced by every human being when under stress. Any anxiety sensations you experience are nothing to be afraid of in themselves they’re just ‘normal’. So keep reminding yourself of that!
Once this new activity becomes comfortable then you know that your comfort zone has expanded and that you’re ready to stretch a little bit more. Over time, you can look back and see how far you have progressed and feel proud of how much larger your new comfort zone is compared to when you started thinking about this process.
This isn’t a nice place to be for anyone and especially not for horse riders. Many of you will have been there at some point, I know that I have and it’s not somewhere I want to be very often, if ever!! (Though, from a purely professional point of view, I’m glad to have experienced my fair share of panic situations as it gives me more of an understanding when my clients tell me how they feel!).
The panic zone is where the communication between horse and rider has gone, or become ineffective. The rider and/or the horse are out of control and the situation is dangerous,
Of the three possible fear reactions in this situation – fight, flight and freeze – the one which a rider tends to experience is the ‘freeze’ reaction where your mind goes numb and your body can’t react.
Given enough time, the thinking part of your brain will catch up with the survival mode and you will probably regain some control or be able to make a plan to extricate yourself from the situation but often there just isn’t time and….well you can imagine what could happen….I’m not going to put ideas into your mind!
I can’t think of any riders I know who would deliberately put themselves into a panic situation but they can arise because of circumstances out of our control. They can also arise because of inexperience or an over active imagination which creates imagined panic inducing scenarios.
If you have found yourself in a panic situation and haven’t been able to leave it behind you yet, then keep a look out for a future post with some ideas and advice on how to do that.
Or feel free to get in touch for more personalised help and advice.