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Horse Behavior. Moira Ilg ERS 697 13-April-2004. Outline. Introduction and General Background Social Status or Ranking Foal and Mare Behavior Stallion Behavior Grazing Behavior Conclusions and Possible Implications. General Background. Factors that influence dominance relationships

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horse behavior

Horse Behavior

Moira Ilg

ERS 697


  • Introduction and General Background
  • Social Status or Ranking
  • Foal and Mare Behavior
  • Stallion Behavior
  • Grazing Behavior
  • Conclusions and Possible Implications
general background
General Background
  • Factors that influence dominance relationships
    • Body size
    • Physical condition
    • Age
      • Older the more dominant
    • Sex
    • Previous agonistic encounters
    • Group size
    • Dominance hierarchy of parents
background continued
Background continued
  • Band structure
    • Single adult male
    • Adult females and their offspring
    • Normally stable
      • Changes are normally juvenile males and females
    • Juvenile males may remain solitary for months or years
    • Juvenile females normally bands
  • A well defined hierarchy is present during grazing and will persist if they are provided with food
general background1
General Background
  • Behaviors
    • Threatening Behavior
      • Maybe widespread or may have a few favorites to pick on
      • Is often one sided
      • If there is a “winner”, they move up in rank
  • Grooming
    • Normally groom with two or three individuals that are similar in rank and age
behaviors continued
Behaviors continued
  • Play
    • Important for social development of young
    • Most common within in peer groups
  • Submissive
    • Often a response to threatening behavior
social status or ranking
Social Status or Ranking
  • Top ranking individual
    • Large number of threats
      • Distributed widely across the herd
      • Often don’t have “friends”
    • Stallion
      • Is often times the only breeding male
    • Mare
      • Often decreases aggressions as rank becomes higher
social status or ranking1
Social Status or Ranking
  • Friends
    • Normally close in age and social status
    • Mares may bond more closely with those that are related to them
    • It is important account for “friendships” when assessing the distribution of threats
social status or ranking2
Social Status or Ranking
  • Tend to be selective about who they interact with
  • Animals tend to spend the most time near individuals that have the same rank or age or both
  • Top ranking animals are seldom seen alone or in a small group
    • Elders are less social than the young
      • Often have fewer interactions with younger subordinate mares
social status or ranking3
Social Status or Ranking
  • May recognize individuals that they have competed with
    • Leading to fewer competitions in older animals
theories of the evolution of bonds
Theories of the evolution of bonds
  • Evolved between mares and stallion in a band because of pressure from predators that hunted cooperatively
  • Protect mares against harassment from other stallions and reduce inter-mare aggression
  • Acts of aggression is most common with mares that do not have foals
  • The least amount of aggression is seen between mares that have foals
    • Protection of foals
  • Intermediate aggression is seen between mares that have foals and those that do not
  • Young mares are much more aggressive than older mares when foals were less than a week old
mares continued
Mares continued
  • Older mares have fewer encounters of aggression
        • Number of acts of aggression decrease as the mare becomes older
  • Aggression frequencies increase in May (foaling season)
  • Frequencies of aggression increase significantly the closer the mare is to parturition
the advantage of being a dominant mare
The Advantage of Being A Dominant Mare
  • Receive less aggression
  • Access to shade on hot sunny or rainy days to rest
  • Increased access to feed
  • Supermare
  • May suppress conception, induce abortions, or harass or kill offspring of subordinate mares
  • However, dominant mares may not live as long
    • They have increased amount of stress and a increased amount of cortisol
the disadvantages of being a subordinate mare
The Disadvantages of Being A Subordinate Mare
  • Increased acts of aggression
  • Denied access to shady areas
  • Give birth to fewer or less fit foals
  • Denied access to food
    • Decreased growth rate
  • Foals will often play with foals of their dam’s friends
  • Also like to associate with foals of the same gender
  • In the case of fillies they most often will have a similar rank to their dam
    • Dams may assist their foals in agonistic encounters
    • Foal-mare association
    • Genetics
stallion behavior
Stallion Behavior
  • Some bands will have multiple stallions
  • The subordinate stallions are more likely to help defend the band than the dominant stallion
  • However these stallions are forced to stay on the periphery of the group by the dominant stallion
grazing behavior
Grazing Behavior
  • The time spent grazing is dependent on the intake of the grazer
  • Daily intake is determined by
    • Time spent foraging
      • Varies from a few minutes to 13hrs and 25 min
    • Bite rate
    • Bite size
  • Are selective when quantity and quality of forage is high
    • When drops below a threshold level they become less selective
grazing behavior1
Grazing Behavior
  • Foraging time increases for mares in the summer months
  • Major feeding bouts after dawn and before dusk
  • Feed mainly during the day except for summer months when there is a midday lull
grazing behavior2
Grazing Behavior
  • Often forage from plant communities that are continuous with patches of more desirable plants
  • May use spatial memory to find those plants that are the most desirable
  • Study by Edwards et al., 1996
grazing behavior3
Grazing Behavior
  • Most large herbivores rest in the areas that they graze
    • Some herds have been shown to travel over 1 kilometer to high ground, saltflats with low plant cover, or denuded vegetation
    • Yet when they arrive they show signs of extreme discomfort
grazing behavior4
Grazing Behavior
  • So why travel all that distance?
    • Higher altitude cooler temps?
      • Unlikely, cooler temps are more likely to be found in shady areas rather than bare ground
    • Fewer biting flies?
      • Probably, though the reasons are unclear
      • Most likely the flat, open areas are poor habitat for biting flies
grazing behavior5
Grazing Behavior
  • Is it really worth the effort?
    • They can lose up to 500cc of blood to biting flies a day
    • Biting flies are also the carriers of disease
        • Anthrax
        • Lethal arbovirsues
    • Horses actually spend less energy in the comfort movements
grazing preferences
Grazing Preferences
  • Preferences
    • Prefer gentler slopes
    • Mesic grasslands
  • Avoid
    • Steep slopes
    • Drier grasslands
    • Large tracks of forests
home range
Home Range
  • Home range varies in size in relation to the band size
  • Home ranges overlap
  • Groups can move seasonally
  • Home range cores become larger during winter months than in summer months
  • Change elevations for foaling and mating
  • Focal animal
  • Focal groups
  • In feral herds it is often times difficult to identify individuals
    • Identify distinctive individuals
      • Markings
      • Colorations
      • Sex
      • Location
  • Counting by helicopter
  • Horses are for the most part herd animals and they move as a herd, but can be influenced by individualistic behaviors
  • There are reasons and patterns in their movements that can be predicted when their behavior is understood
possible implications
Possible Implications
  • Understanding behavior can allow
    • Better prediction of movements
    • Understanding habitat choice
    • Better herd management