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The behavior of stallion toward foals in the herd of wild horses

The stallion plays with foal on the meadow in Milovice, Czech Republic © Michal Köpping

Horses are social animals that live in harems controlled by one or, in exceptional cases, more than one stallions. In addition to its reproductive function, the stallion also plays an important role as a protector of the herd against predators and other males. At the same time, his behavior keeps the herd together. The behavior of stallion towards has rarely been studied. However, it seems that a harem male could be an interesting social partner and a more attentive parent than is generally thought.

Kateřina Šandlová from the Department of Zoology, FSci USB with colleagues from Czech Universitzy of Life Sciences Prague studied the interactions between foals and stallions in a herd of wild horses and compared them with how other members of the herd behave towards each other. The research took place in the reserve in Milovice, near Prague.

The results showed that foals prefer the stallion as partner in social interactions compared to their mothers and other mares. Stallion is the only adult who actively participates in games with his offspring and, unlike mares, is less aggressive towards foals. Although the statistical differences in the behavior of mares and stallions towards the father were inconclusive, the stallions were clearly more active in initiating these interactions. The authors conclude that stallion’s presence might be crucial for the physical and psychological development of the foals, especially the males. The stallion could act as a role model for young nales, who can learn the appropriate patterns of social behavior. These results bring new insight into the common management of domestic horses, where stallions are usually kept separately and are not allowed to form natural groups.

Šandlová, K., Komárková, M., & Ceacero, F. (2020). Daddy, daddy cool: stallion-foal relationships in a socially-natural herd of Exmoor poniesAnimal cognition.

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