Here are some great tips for breaking that cycle of fear...
The simplest, quickest, way to relax is to BREATHE. Now, I know you're breathing or you wouldn't be reading this! ;-) But are you breathing in a way that promotes relaxation?
1. Let's find out. First, let's dissect what you do when you inhale. Stand up. Take in a really deep breath. Did your shoulders go up? If they did, you're just breathing in your upper chest. And there's always tension associated with breathing like that.
To inhale correctly, put one hand on your stomach and the other hand on your shoulder. Inhale. Let your stomach expand and get "fat" while you keep your shoulders DOWN. By doing so, you're lowering your diaphragm and taking in a really deep breath.
2. Now, let's exhale. Sit in a chair. Inhale as you did above. When you exhale, keep your back straight (don't slouch), and feel your butt getting heavier on the chair.
3. Now let's bring this breathing technique to your riding with one addition--visualization. Walk around on your horse. Inhale keeping your shoulders down and letting your stomach get "fat". As you exhale, feel your seat getting heavier in the saddle, and visualize that your butt dissolves into your horse's barrel. In your mind's eye, pretend you're a mythical centaur.
By the way, this is the last thing I do when I circle the arena before I go down the centerline in competition. I take 3 deep breaths. It's a sure-fire way to keep those show nerves in check.
A Happy Horse