Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Harveys BFF: The social behavior of horses

Disclaimer: Okay, this is a little sappy. It's okay to skip to the resource links.

I love horses, but at times they do seem kind of dumb. They dance away from blowing plastic bags. They won't allow the clippers near their ears. They refuse to jump the flowerbox. As predators, humans have trouble understanding the world of a flight animal. They are not smart the way we are smart (well, some of us). I think their intelligence expresses itself in their social interactions. Their body language is complex and subtle, and it reflects each members place in a social hierarchy. Their herd is their family, and within this group they form attachments.

Bajeera, Harv's BFF
I bought Harv in 1997 in North Carolina. At the time he was the "alpha dude" in a heard of about eight horses. He routinely bullied herd members, making scary faces and chasing them if they got too close. He had one BFF, though. Bajeera, a gray thoroughbred, was his right hand man. Bajeera was an old event horse, and he was a good match for his owner Peg. Peg was a tough cookie; she had been a steeplechase rider in her youth. When I met her she was a married mother of two, and she taught school part time. Peg had long red hair that she wore in a thick braid down her back. We became friends when Harvey had sinus surgery. The surgeons had opened a quarter-sized hole in his face to improve drainage, and Peg helped me do post-op care for this incredibly yucky wound. The other boarders could barely look at Harvey, but Peg looked at this ghoulish hole and exclaimed, "Ew, cool!" She helped me to keep it clean/open, and afterward she peered into his sinus with a flashlight.

I stayed in NC about a after I bought Harv, but then I got a new job and moved to Pennsylvania. Of course Harv came with me. My last communication with Peg was when I returned her shipping boots, which I'd borrowed for the trip. In Pennsylvania, Harvey and I competed in dressage, and in 2003 we qualified for the BLM Finals in Lexington, VA. I drove Harv down alone in a borrowed trailer. We got to the fairgrounds safely and I unloaded Harvey, and as I walked him toward the stable area I heard a distinctive voice. Looking around I saw a familiar long braid of red hair. It was Peg, and along side her was Bajeera. They were a welcome sight after a lonely, stressful trip. We moved our horses over to a grassy area where we could talk. As Peg and I talked, Harvey and Bajeera touched noses. There was no mistake that they remembered one another. Their eyes were soft and content, their bodies relaxed. We led them over to grass and dropped the lead lines. They fell in side by side and began to graze, faces together. Of course they hadn't forgotten. For a herd animal, that sort of memory has survival value, but it doesn't matter how you explain it. They were friends.

A Black Beauty Moment
Peg and I talked for about an hour, frankly long after we normally would have. We kept looking over at our horses; it was hard to break up this pair after they'd been apart so long. They looked so happy to have found a friend in this strange place. You've all read Black Beauty, right? Black Beauty never forgot his friends Ginger and Merrylegs, and doggone it Harv had not forgotten Bajeera. They're not like us in so many ways, but they do form attachments. If they don't experience love exactly the way we do, they feel something not far from it. Horses love things that are familiar and safe. In that capacity, I think they love humans too.


Pecking Order: Horse Herd Hierarchy from Equisearch
A quick, basic summary.

Relationships and Communication in Socially Natural Horse Herds from University of Pennsylvania.

Sigurjónsdóttir, Hrefna. Social relationships in a group of horses without a mature stallion , Behavior, Volume 140, Number 6 / June, 2003
Study of Icelandic horses, abstract only, in English (thank god).

Dr. Paul McGreevy on Horse Behavior, RIRDC Equine News, March 1996.
Interview with researcher who studies feral horses. Questions center around differences between feral and domestic horses.

Goodwin, D. The Importance of Ethology in Understanding the Behaviour of the Horse. Equine Veterinary Journal, 28, 15-19.

Van Dierendonck, M. Social contact in horses: implications for interactions with humans in de Jong, F. & van den Bos, R. (Eds.) The human-animal relationship. Assen, Netherlands: Royal Van Gorcum, 2005.

Horse Behaviour from the Natural Horse Network

Equine behavior: Prey vs. predator, horse vs. human. Utah State University extension publication, July 2005
Dierendonck, M. The Importance Of Social Relationships In Horses. 2006. Proefschrift Universiteit Utrecht? 2006.
A dissertation from the Netherlands.

Hanggi, E. Thinking horse: cognition and perception AAEP Proceedings, 2005, v. 51., p. 246-255.

Horse psychology and the language of horses
Basic introduction to herd behavior from Julie Goodnight.

Equine Vision and Its Effect on Behavior. Utah State University extension publication, July 2005.

Chapter 1 Horse Behavior: Evolution, domestication, and feralization from The Welfare of Horses by Natalie Waran. Springer publications, 2002.
Available through Google books. This book describes the development of horse behaviour, and the way in which the management of horses today affects their welfare.

Horse behavior by George Waring, William Andrew, Inc. 2003.
Mostly full text.

The need for companionship and an active social life, in Understanding Horse Behavior: An Innovative Approach by Leslie Skipper, Skyhorse Publications, 2007.

Social behavior of horses in Social behavior of farm animals, by Linda J. Keeling, CABI Publishing, 2002. Sorry, chapter is not in full text.

Hausberger, M. A review of the human–horse relationship. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Volume 109, Issue 1, Pages 1-24.

Lawrence, E. Hoofbeats and society: studies of human-horse interactions. Indiana University press, 1986.
Sorry, no full text.

1 comment:

  1. I agree completely! Horses who live together have just as much of an effect on each other as people do, and I really do think they have memories like elephants.


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