top of page

A Preliminary Investigation of Preferred Affiliative Interactions within and between Select Bonded Pairs of Horses: A First Look at Equine “Love Languages”

Kieson E and Sams J


Recent research in equine pro-social behavior has shifted from agonistic and aggressive behaviors to a greater emphasis on affiliative interactions. With increased prioritization of physiological and psychological welfare in horses, studies have begun to focus not only on understanding stress behaviors, but also how to improve recognition of positive emotional affects in equine behaviors and the contexts in which they take place. Previous research in affiliative interactions focused on proximity and allogrooming as indicators of affiliative bonds between horses and can be used as a foundation for studying additional affiliative interactions that are exclusive between bonded pairs. This study is a preliminary investigation of behaviors exhibited between twelve bonded pairs of quarter horse mares of reproductive age living in large, socially stable herds. The goal of this study is to create a preliminary list of behaviors that occur exclusively between horse friends that indicate behavioral demonstrations of affection. Researchers used proximity indicators to identify bonded pairs and focused on coding behaviors that horses voluntarily expressed with their chosen friends and not with other mares. Researchers used video data to log and count behaviors within and between pairs to look for differences in individual preferences for affiliative interactions (whether presenting or receiving) and to determine any differences between how each pair exhibits affiliative interactions. Behaviors observed included initiation of allogrooming, touching body with nose, deliberately moving head over or under the head and neck of their partner, placing head over the back of partner, and moving to closer proximity. All twelve pairs demonstrated behaviors of initiating closer proximity indicating affiliative preference. Each pair also exhibited at least two other affiliative behaviors with only one pair partaking in allogrooming behavior. Individuals within pairs also differed in their preferred affiliative interactions, suggesting that individual horses have unique preferences for expressing and receiving affiliative behaviors which may differ from their partner’s preferences. This study can serve as a preliminary foundation for examining how horses choose to demonstrate affection and can inform interpretations of psychological welfare in horses and provide new insights into horse-human interactions.

Keywords: Equine Affiliative Behavior; Horse Friendships; Love Languages; Equine Preferred Conspecifics


bottom of page