Social Interactions (Si)

The importance of sociality to horses, Equus (ferus) caballus, is a topic that can never be emphasized strongly enough, their survival strategies and reproductive successes are highly dependent on the formation of cohesive social bonds (van Dierendonck, 2006 ). In fact, horses should not in my opinion be considered in any other context than a social one.

Tremendous effort has gone to describe the “workings” of the horse, how they behave and live, but many fail to see that living in close proximity with a con-specific has been shaped by millions of years of natural selection.

Despite millennia of domestication horses that have either been set free or have escaped and allowed to roam on their own accord, have in many parts of the world:  thrived by adopting survival and reproductive strategies that are generally quite similar to one another.

The fundamental similarities unveiled by years of descriptive studies are a testament to their evolutionary importance. But, similarities do not equate to sameness and differences found in their ways of life are likely to shed light on alternative life strategies, and their incredible biological plasticity which allows them to “fit” into such distinct environments.

It may be dead obvious to most that all extinct and extant equids are in fact horses. Equus, the name Linnaeus (1758) used to classify the genus that included the zebras, half-asses, donkeys, Przewalski and caballus, is a Latin name meaning: horse.

Throughout this Ethogram, emphasis is on Equus caballus, and use of the colloquial term “horse” is a shorthand referring exclusively to this species.

Studies of social behaviour are in fact studies of “(…) cooperation between individuals” (Tinbergen, 1953), and cooperation will be the centerpiece of our approximation to the social life of Equus caballus throughout this present work.

Just as organisms are communities of parts, so too societies are communities of individuals wherein cooperation, mating and the rearing of young play a vital role and in which individuals are driven by conflicting needs and interests. In other words, animal societies are characterized by cooperative and conflictive interactions among individuals: those between nearby con-specifics. (Whitehead, 2009)

It makes sense to consider that sociality brings about both ecological and genetic benefits to individuals by allowing them to better acquire and use certain resources, but group living has inherent costs too:

Increased foraging efficiency, improved predator detection, avoidance and defense, as well as easier access to reproductive options are three of the more important benefits of group living.

At the same time group living is likely to heighten competition for resources, aggression among group members, as well as increase exposure to parasites and disease. (Alexander, 1974) For social behaviour to be adaptive, advantages must outweigh the costs associated with group living (Alexander 1974; Wrangham & Rubenstein 1986).

Animals that live together influence each other in a myriad of ways, and serve a number of functions. In horse societies all individuals associate with all other individuals at some rate and any resulting order is related to the ecology of a population, including interactions with con-specifics.

Included under the section of Social Interactions, you will find the following subcategories:

  • Affiliative interactions (af)
  • Agonistic interactions (ag)
  • Communication (C)
  • Play (P)
  • Sexual (sx)
  • Parental (par)
  • Bonds (bd)
  • Roles (rls)
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