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Tend and Befriend in Horses: Partner Preferences, Lateralization, and Contextualization of Allogrooming in Two Socially Stable Herds of Quarter Horse Mares

Emily Kieson 1, Amira A. Goma 2, and Medhat Radi 3


Studies show that horses express favoritism through shared proximity and time and demonstrate unique affiliative behaviors such as allogrooming (mutual scratching) with favorite conspecifics. Allogrooming also occurs more frequently during stress and has been observed to occur more frequently in domestic herds than feral. The role of partner preference, lateralization, and duration of allogrooming as measures of social bonding has remained unclear. The present study looked at two socially stable herds of mares (n = 85, n = 115) to determine the frequency, duration, visual field of view and partner preference during allogrooming in both pasture settings (low stress) and confined settings (higher stress). One hundred and fifty-three videos for both herds were coded for allogrooming behaviors with 6.86 h recorded in confined conditions and 31.9 h in pasture settings. Six allogrooming sessions were observed in the pasture setting with an average duration of 163.11 s. In confined settings, a total of 118 allogrooming sessions were observed with an average duration of 40.98 s. Significant (p < 0.01) differences were found between settings for duration (s), number of allogrooming pairs, and frequency of allogrooming (per min) for each herd. All observed allogrooming sessions involved pairs of favored conspecifics (one partner per horse). The current study suggests that horses may have friendships that can be observed through the demonstration of specific affiliative behaviors during times of stress with more frequent, but shorter affiliative interactions with preferred partners during times of stress. This context suggests that horses adhere to the “tend and befriend” principles of friendship in animals.


Keywords: equine; welfare; affiliative behavior; laterality; friendship; stress


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