Kristen asked an interesting question in comments on the last post - is dismounting and hand-walking a confidence builder or not, and when is it better to ride through?
And Muddy K has the following question - how to break down the work, and whether to begin at the beginning or work on things as they come up?
I can only tell you what I do with my horses and this may or may not be applicable to you and your horses.
This afternoon, Pie and I worked in the arena for a while (two rides in one day on Pie!), after sidepassing up to open the gate - he does this very well - doing the "squaring the circle" exercise I'd been doing with Dawn a while ago. We trotted to a cone, then circled at a walk around it, then trotted to the next cone. I was trying to stay out of his face since his teeth haven't been done and the sidepull hasn't arrived yet, but his head was still pretty high. He got the idea pretty well, but there was some wavering from straight lines and some wide turns - this was really our first work session in the arena so it wasn't too bad.
Then my husband arrived - I had asked him to walk with us on the trail - I wanted to revisit the sections of the trail near the barn where Pie had had his worries yesterday. We walked past the goat, who promptly flung himself at the fence and put his feet up on it, bleating. Pie was completely alarmed by this and showed signs of wanting to bolt. But he didn't - just spooked - and I dismounted.
To answer Kristen's question, I make a decision to either ride a horse or dismount and lead depending on the horse and its skills - some horses are more confident when ridden and some are better when led - and to lead a horse that is worried or agitated, the horse must have excellent leading skills that won't come unglued under stress. Pie leads really well and seems to take comfort from having a person on the ground. On the other had, I never lead Dawn when she's worried - Dawn tends to "go away" when stressed and that can be a real recipe for disaster on the ground.
After I dismounted, my husband and I headed down the trail with Pie - I wanted to go back over the ground where he'd had his issues yesterday and go back over them in a more calm frame of mind. Pie seems to really like my husband - perhaps he like men because of the old man who owned him and started him. So we walked along - Pie was nervous but very well behaved. When we reached the farthest point I wanted to reach - we'd been over the areas where he'd had trouble yesterday, I remounted from the ground and we turned back towards home. He began to relax and was completely responsive when I asked him to slow. His attention was captured for a bit by Charisma trotting fast in the arena, but he continued to be well-behaved until we got back and I dismounted and put him away.
To answer Muddy K's question, how and what order to address a horse's issues has no open and shut answers for me. I think some things are really essential - ground manners and leading, mounting and tying/ground tying - I think these building blocks are ones that are foundational and I'll usually address them first - Pie came with these so I don't need to do much there. I also think it's a good idea to have an overall plan, subject to adjustment, for each horse depending on its strengths and deficiencies (see below about Dawn). Next is basic softening, with a halter and then bridle - I can't do any work with a bit with Pie until his teeth are done and maybe even not then, since he'll still be shedding caps as he grows his adult teeth. Softening work allows a horse to engage his core and carry himself more effectively, and also has a direct effect on calmness - a soft horse is soft from the inside and that has direct neurological calming effects, I believe, due to the relaxation of the top line. Pie and I also need to deal with what comes up on the trail - he's got good skills but has some holes relating to the buddy-bound issues and some things he's worried about, like bicycles and large dogs. We'll keep doing our trail work, and as soon as his sidepull comes we'll be doing a lot of softening work, starting in the arena. So I guess it's all of one piece, and worked in together - I know that's not very programmatic, but that's how I work.
Dawn is a very different horse from Pie, with different issues - read my post "The Horse Is Thinking About Leaving . . ." if you want to understand the work program I have with her. Before I rode Pie this afternoon, I rode Dawn - she's been a bit neglected of late - we did more figure and transition work in the arena, and also walked around the outside of the arena and around by the pond just to the north of the barn. She was pretty amped up - good in the arena though. On our short excursions, I rode through (bareback) a pretty big forward and sideways spook, and she did several other smaller spooks. She was trying very hard to be good, though, and I told her what a wonderful mare she was. When I turned her back out, she bolted from the gate, bucking high to show how strong and powerful she is!