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.
"There goes Earl!"