• Jenni Nellist

Tricks of the Trade; Nervous State Traffic Lights!

Behaviourist Jenni Nellist shares her go-to equine behaviour problem solving strategies for success.


Your horse’s body is a network of nerves and hormones that work automatically; promoting rest, curiosity and socialising when all’s well; caution when assessing potential threat; and active defence when “under fire”. The automatic nervous responses can even help horses play dead to escape predator attack; or more soberly: shut down when suffering poor welfare. These bodily reflexes can be highly emotional.

GREEN LIGHT: happy, comfortable, secure horse. Socially engaged and responsive. Action: carry on.

AMBER LIGHT: inhibited, cautious, indecisive. The horse feels nervous and is buying time to assess potential danger: wide eyes and nostrils, tense body, increased ear movements. Action: smile, stay grounded, enable the horse to safely observe the situation. When they relax, guide them safely and securely with cues and aids they know really well.

RED LIGHT: clear and present danger, disengaged, active, defensive and emotional horse in fright, flight, fight behaviour. Action: remove you and your horse to a state of safety as coolly and calmly as you can muster - “discretion is the better part of valor”. Nerves that fire together, wire together, so the emphasis has to be on keeping cool. Horse behaviour plus strong emotion equals recipe for dangerous habits!


International Society for Equitation Science training principle number 9: avoid and dissociate flight responses.


Do you have a horse with behavioural issues? I can help. Get in contact with Jenni.

Jenni Nellist Clinical Animal Behaviourist

Jenni: 07974 569407

1 Orchard Close, Port Eynon, Swansea, SA3 1NZ

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