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Animals 2019, 9(1), 14; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9010014

Significance of Group Composition for the Welfare of Pastured Horses

1
Faculty of Subject Teacher Education, School of Education, University of Iceland, Stakkahlíð, R105 Reykjavík, Iceland
2
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
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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.

Abstract

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

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