Join Date: Dec 2010
Location: southern Arizona
I'm not a pro horse trainer, I don't compete, etc. But your last description sounds like a horse whose confidence is based on the arena walls, not you. I'd start by walking him on a lead rope out & about, getting him used to following you. Then I'd start making short trips out of the arena, preferably with another horse. I would then work up to short solo trips out & about. I would also make the arena the place of work.
I would not go bitless. Playing with the bit, or a bit with a roller, can help calm a nervous horse and remind him you are there.
If it was his mouth, he'd be like that all the time.
"Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing...well, ignore it mostly."