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Social contact in horses: implications for human-horse interactions

By M.C. VanDierendonck, D. Goodwin

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The ancestors of the domestic horse were important prey species for many predators, including humans. Equids possess few physical defence mechanisms, relying on survival strategies centred on the formation of cohesive social bonds within stable groups. Mutual grooming is common between these individuals, maintains bonds and can be a source of reassurance following social conflict. Disruption of these bonds is associated with great social stress. Social isolation is uncommon in natural horse society. Around 6000 BC the history of human-horse interactions began to change as the Eurasian wild horse population dwindled, threatening an important food resource. Early domestication processes began with human groups maintaining associations with free-ranging groups of mares and geldings, that were ridden, herded and harvested as meat, milk and hides. Cultural differences in approach to the human-horse relationship have been evident from ancient and classical history. These differences persist to the present day. There are two main approaches, a co-operative approach based upon understanding the behaviour of the horse, and an alternative approach based on human dominance and equine submission. Social interactions and contact between humans and horses have reflected these differences in approach. Current management practices for horses are driven by human requirements and costs limitations, but often ignore basic equine needs. Intensive management of performance and leisure horses is frequently associated with social isolation, considerable alterations of feeding and foraging practices and confinement. These have behavioural and physical consequences for the health and welfare of horses. Preventive and curative behavioural solutions offer welfare, practical and financial advantages


Date 2005
Pages 65 - 81
ISBN/ISSN 9023240820
Publisher Utrecht University Repository
Location of Publication Utrecht, Netherlands
URL https://dspace.library.uu.nl/handle/1874/11707
Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal roles
  2. Domestication
  3. Horses
  4. Husbandry
  5. Mammals
  6. Nature
  7. Social behavior
  8. Wild animals