Significance of Group Composition for the Welfare of Pastured Horses
Faculty of Subject Teacher Education, School of Education, University of Iceland, Stakkahlíð, R105 Reykjavík, Iceland
Educational Research Institute, School of Education, University of Iceland, Stakkahlíð, R105 Reykjavík, Iceland
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 11 December 2018
Revised: 25 December 2018
Accepted: 28 December 2018
Published: 5 January 2019
Because of their social nature, horses need to have plenty of opportunities to interact with others to establish bonds and learn from their elders. Comparison of social behaviour of 426 horses in 20 groups of Icelandic horses in pastures, showed that aggression was lowest where the group composition was like the natural system, i.e., with a stallion, mares and their young foals. In groups without a stallion, the presence of foals is also associated with low aggression. Stability of the group with respect to group composition is of great importance; the horses are less aggressive in the more stable groups. The highest aggression was found in groups of unfamiliar yearlings. The horses allogroomed more in groups with relatively more young horses, which suggests they are forming bonds. Later, they groom less but prefer certain individuals. Horse owners should all be aware of the importance of planning the composition of horse groups and to keep the membership as stable as possible in order to ensure good welfare.