Thursday, April 26, 2012

New research-- Horses need friends too!

I wanted to highlight a recent paper that has just been published in the Journal of Ethology examining the interactions among a managed population of Sorraia mares in Portugal.

File:Sorraia.convex profile.jpg

First of all Sorraia is evidently a rare (endangered)  breed of horse that is indigenous to Portugal. They were re-discovered in the 20th centurary and there are re-establishment projects in the works. Check out how lovely they are! evidently they are most often grullo (wikipedia)!

The research project examined affiliations among the mares comparing them to the reproductive status, relatedness, age, and dominance of the individuals. An affiliation is defined as a "long lasting relationship between two mares which are reflected in spatial proximity and participation in affiliative interactions, such as mutual grooming" We all have seen this--- domesticated horses (mares and geldings)sometimes preferentially hang around one horse in particular. We catch them grooming each other etc... We make comments like "Beau and Magic are such buddies".

This study found that kinship (relatedness) did not significantly affect these affiliative relationships and that individuals tended to spend more time with others in the same reproductive state. They found these friendships were relatively stable as well but their strength decreases after foaling. I don't know about you but I am seeing many parallels between horses and humans in this respect. :)

I think this research highlights the importance for equine friendships. So what could we learn from this research? Maybe we can all try and be more cognisant of these lasting friendships in our horses when we are moving them around between pastures and between barns etc. I know I have moved Bodhi several times now forcing him to loose several close friends. This of course can't always be helped but if we pay attention to the natural bonds in our horses then we can reduce their stress by not unnecessarily splitting them from their good friends.

Also for managers of breeding facilities it seems this paper highlights the importance of keeping brood mares together especially when they are pregnant. It seems they form the strongest bonds.

Here is another article summarizing the paper

Filipa Heitor and Luis Vicente 2010. Affiliative relationships among Sorraia mares; influence of age, dominance, kinshop and reproductive state. Ethology, 28, 133-140.


  1. I love your header picture. :) Interesting but maybe not too surprising that our horses need friends.

    Sometimes I feel like I've taken the place of a pasture friend for Val - he grooms me quite often, and has tried to play grabby face. (not allowed)

    He has a friend just over the fence, but hasn't interacted physically with another horse in a long time. They both get pretty upset when the other goes away.

    My plan is to get a second horse when my boarder heads off to college. (did I just really say that?)

    1. Yeah this study is just supporting what most horse people have always known. It is true our horses do bond with us in a similar fashion I think. That is what makes this species so special.

      I like that plan by the way :)hhehehehehe

  2. I've seen for years how horses bond in our herd. I do feel sorry for Dusty being the only mare (even if she is a tomboy) being the only mare in a herd of six geldings. She gets along fine though. Nate is her love and they hang out most all the time. She will hang with the others occasionally too. Funny thing is when we had a mare with her they fought and didn't get along at all.

  3. Brilliant blog! Why not come and post it at Haynet an Equine Social Blogging network? We have blogs from all over the world in all things equestrian. Be great to have you there! Come and visit

  4. Amazing facts about horses. I can't believe that what we call them a breed today, they are actually what remains of an indigenous wild horse. The Sorraia is thought to be the last remnant of wild horses that lived across most of the Iberian Peninsula, including parts of Spain & Portugal.