Next Article in Journal
Variation in the Caprine KAP24-1 Gene Affects Cashmere Fibre Diameter
Previous Article in Journal
Garlic (Allium Sativum) Supplementation Improves Respiratory Health but Has Increased Risk of Lower Hematologic Values in Horses
Previous Article in Special Issue
Evidence for Right-Sided Horses Being More Optimistic than Left-Sided Horses
Article Menu
Issue 1 (January) cover image

Export Article

Open AccessArticle
Animals 2019, 9(1), 14;

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
Full-Text   |   PDF [7009 KB, uploaded 5 January 2019]   |  
  |   Review Reports

Simple Summary

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.


We explore how herd composition and management factors correlate with frequencies of social interactions in horse groups. Since the welfare of horses correlates with low aggression levels and social contact opportunities, information of this kind is important. The data are a collection of records of social interactions of 426 Icelandic horses in 20 groups of at least eight horses. The complexities and limitations of the data prohibit useful statistical modelling so the results are presented descriptively. Interesting and informative patterns emerge which can be of use both in management and in future studies. Of special interest are the low levels of agonistic behaviours in breeding groups where one stallion was present. The horses were less agonistic when in groups with young foals and where group membership was stable. Unfamiliar yearlings in peer groups were especially aggressive. Allogrooming was most frequent in groups with relatively more young horses and in unstable and small groups. Interestingly, the horses allogroomed more if they had few preferred allogrooming partners. The findings show that composition (age/sex) and stability of groups are of great importance with respect to aggression levels and opportunities for establishing bonds. View Full-Text
Keywords: horse welfare; aggression; allogrooming; pastured horses; Icelandic horse horse welfare; aggression; allogrooming; pastured horses; Icelandic horse

Figure 1

This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

Supplementary material


Share & Cite This Article

MDPI and ACS Style

Sigurjónsdóttir, H.; Haraldsson, H. Significance of Group Composition for the Welfare of Pastured Horses. Animals 2019, 9, 14.

Show more citation formats Show less citations formats

Note that from the first issue of 2016, MDPI journals use article numbers instead of page numbers. See further details here.

Related Articles

Article Metrics

Article Access Statistics



[Return to top]
Animals EISSN 2076-2615 Published by MDPI AG, Basel, Switzerland RSS E-Mail Table of Contents Alert
Back to Top