My student Cindy, started lessons about 6 months ago and was pretty nervous. She did not talk directly about it, but, watching her ride showed it. She carried tension. With time it would partially disappear when she had enough time repeating the exercise we were working on, and either fatigue set in and she could release tension unwittingly or she just got a bit more confident.
However, the tension would resurface in new circumstances, like a different horse to ride, or a new exercise or speeding up. Today, we worked on transitioning from halt to walk to trot to walk to halt. In her downward transitions particularily she would grow very rigid and bounce in the saddle due to knee grip, shoulder tension, lower back stiffening, and ankle lock.
I worked with her to create awareness of her visceral response, which caused her to tense in a protective reaction. I suggested visual and physical replacement reactions. Such as toe tapping in the stirrup to loosen her ankle, thinking of presenting her hand to be kissed, this helped loosen her wrists and and therefore her lower arm and triceps. Softening her knee so she could sink deeper in the ankle, softening between her shoulder blades and releasing her lower back. The horse visibly softened as well.
The last thing I suggested was to really breathe deeply and to "blow out 100 birthday candles" as she sat deep and melted into the walk-halt.
Cindy made a very big change and felt like "she could really ride a horse." I know the horse really appreciated the change as she was soft and relaxed and breathing deep as well, all in the effort of release.
Good job Cindy.