I clearly haven't been handled or working with Red enough - the more he's handled by the barn workers (who really don't know much about how to handle or lead horses, and tend to hang on the horse's faces), and the less he's handled by me, the more braced he becomes. He also tends to start to lose his ground manners - he was not very good at all for the farrier last Friday, which is not normal for him these days.
Today was a good opportunity to get things back on a good footing. I took him into the arena with a web halter, a long line and a dressage whip. We did some leading work, focussed on him following me correctly and not intruding into my personal space. We did some groundwork - changes of direction at the walk, working on him not cutting in. We did a little bit of lungeing - he's pretty much sound now at the trot, just slightly short-strided on the right hind at the trot when tracking left but not taking protective steps anymore when he slows down at trot. He's ready to start ridden work at the walk - we'll likely do that tomorrow.
Things got more interesting when I started doing some close-in lateral work. He's always been a bit fussy about close-in work, and particularly when I'm on his right - he apparently thinks people are only supposed to be on his left - I'm violating a rule or something. I was asking him to circle tightly around me and then to take lateral steps to the outside with both fronts and hinds. My being that close to him, and him being a bit frustrated by not quite getting what I wanted at first, led to some attempted nipping. He's not mean, he's just overly expressive of his frustration and needs to be reminded that certain behaviors are not ever acceptable.
Well, I nipped that in the bud, so to speak. There were a couple of sharp slaps to intruding muzzle (with teeth), and some forceful reinforcement of backing out of my personal space. He got the point fairly quickly. We just kept working on our lateral work, and he gradually relaxed - when I was on his right it was still harder for him, but I rewarded every good effort with praise and a walk around. We got there, and I think the balance is reestablished - for now. Red is a horse who needs and likes to work hard, and we haven't been able to do that for a while.
I was pleased with where we got to and he seemed to feel more content and less nervous as well - when his nervousness amps up that's a sign he's not feeling entirely right with the world.
Hoping that tomorrow we ride - if only at the walk.