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Grouping horses according to gender - effects on aggression, spacing and injuries

By G. H. M. Jorgensen, L. Borsheim, C. M. Mejdell, E. Sondergaard, K. E. Boe

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Abstract

Many horse owners tend to group horses according to gender, in an attempt to reduce aggressive interactions and the risk of injuries. The aim of our experiment was to test the effects of such gender separation on injuries, social interactions and individual distance in domestic horses. A total of 66 horses were recruited from 4 different farms in Norway and Denmark and divided into six batches. Within each batch, horses were allotted into one mare group, one gelding group and one mixed gender group, with most groups consisting of three or four animals. After 4-6 weeks of acclimatisation, a trained observer recorded all social interactions using direct, continuous observation 1 h in the morning and 1 h in the afternoon for three consecutive days. Recordings of the nearest neighbour of each horse were performed using instantaneous sampling every 10 min. The horses were inspected for injuries before grouping, day 1 after grouping and after 4-6 weeks. No significant effect of gender composition was found on social interactions (P>0.05), spacing (P>0.07) or injuries (P>0.23). Eighty percent of all aggressive interactions recorded were threats, not involving physical contact. Horses with the smallest space allowance showed the highest mean number of aggressive interactions (28.6+or-6.1 interactions per 6 h) compared to the mean of all the other batches (8.3+or-1.0 interactions per 6 h). Very few injuries were found and most were superficial. In conclusion, gender composition does not seem to have any effect on aggression level, spacing or injuries. However, the early social experience of horses, management of feeding and space allowance probably represents more important factors for successful group housing of domestic horses.

Date 2009
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 120
Issue 1/2
Pages 94-99
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2009.05.005
Language English
Author Address Department of Animal and Aquacultural Sciences, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, P.O. Box 5003, 1432 As, Norway. grete.meisfjord@umb.no
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Tags
  1. Acclimatization
  2. Aggression
  3. Animal behavior
  4. Animal diseases
  5. Animal housing
  6. Animal nutrition
  7. Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  8. Denmark
  9. Developed countries
  10. Effect
  11. Europe
  12. Feeding
  13. Group housing
  14. Horses
  15. Interactions
  16. Mammals
  17. Norway
  18. OECD countries
  19. peer-reviewed
  20. Scandinavia
  21. Social behavior
  22. trauma
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  1. peer-reviewed