Impact of unrelated adults on the behavior of weanlings and young horses - Université de Rennes Access content directly
Conference Papers Year : 2011

Impact of unrelated adults on the behavior of weanlings and young horses


Young horses normally live in small year-round stable groups including one stallion, their mothers, a few other mares, their siblings and unrelated peers. On the contrary, most of young domestic horses are generally maintained in same-age and same-sex groups from weaning until training. One has to consider that the absence of adult partners during ontogeny may be a source of behavioral disorders. In a first study, we focused on social conditions at weaning. While it is well known that presence of peers is of high importance to alleviate weaning stress, we investigated here the effects of the introduction of unrelated adult mares in groups of weanlings. Results showed that signs of stress were less pronounced and shorter in time in weanlings housed with adult mares than in weanlings kept in same-age groups (e.g. distress vocalizations: P<0.05; salivary cortisol: P<0.05). Besides, only foals deprived of adult presence exhibited increased aggressiveness towards peers (P<0.05) and abnormal behaviors (P<0.05). In conclusion, the presence of two unrelated adults in groups of weanlings not only alleviated weaning stress, but also favored positive social behavior and limited the emergence of abnormal behaviors. In a second study, we examined the impact of the temporary presence of adult horses on the behavior of 1- and 2-year-old horses. Results showed that young horses reared in homogeneous groups had a reduced behavioral repertoire, no real preferred partner and displayed many agonistic interactions compared to domestic horses reared under more natural conditions. Interestingly, after the introduction of adults, young horses expressed new behaviors (e.g. snapping, lying recumbent), preferential social associations emerged (P<0.05) and positive social behavior increased (P<0.05). Taken together, these results have important implications in terms of husbandry, indicating the importance of keeping young horses with adults.

Dates and versions

hal-01334962 , version 1 (21-06-2016)



Séverine Henry, Marie Bourjade, Martine Hausberger. Impact of unrelated adults on the behavior of weanlings and young horses. 62nd Annual Meeting of the European Association for Animal Production, European Federation of Animal Science (EAAP), Aug 2011, Stavanger, Norway. ⟨10.3920/978-90-8686-731-8⟩. ⟨hal-01334962⟩
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