||Classically, biologists have considered adaptation of behavioural characteristics in terms of long-term functional benefits to the individual, such as survival or reproductive fitness. In captive species, including the domestic horse, this level of explanation is limited, as for the most part, horses are housed in conditions that differ markedly from those in which they evolved. In addition, an individual horse's reproductive fitness is largely determined by man rather than its own behavioural strategies. Perhaps for reasons of this kind, explanations of behavioural adaptation to environmental challenges by domestic animals, including the capacity to learn new responses to these challenges, tend to concentrate on the proximate causes of behaviour. However, understanding the original function of these adaptive responses can help us explain why animals perform apparently novel or functionless activities in certain housing conditions and may help us to appreciate what the animal welfare implications might be. This paper reviews the behavioural adaptation of the domestic horse to captivity and discusses how apparently abnormal behaviour may not only provide a useful practical indicator of specific environmental deficiencies but may also serve the animal as an adaptive response to these deficiencies in an “abnormal” environment.