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Flauger, B., Möstl, E., & Krueger., K. (2012). The introduction of horses into new groups: Social interactions and cortisol release. In K. Krueger (Ed.), Proceedings of the 2. International Equine Science Meeting (Vol. in press). Wald: Xenophon Publishing.
Abstract: Domestic horses are kept in so-called “fate societies” where they have to deal with frequent mixing. Several studies have evaluated and discussed the aggression level and injury risk during the introduction of horses into new groups, but nothing is known about the endocrine responses and thus if horses experience stress during introduction.
In this study we analysed the efficiency of four approved introduction techniques and evaluated the introduction of 30 horses into 11 different groups. Horses were introduced: 1) immediately, 2) after observing the new group for several days, 3) together with an “integration horse” after several days of observation, or 4) with a mixed strategy. Aggressive as well as positive social behaviour between the introduced horses and the group members were analysed the two hours following the introduction event. In addition, we focussed on the glucocorticoid production of the newcomer horses by measuring faecal cortisol metabolites (FCM) on the day of the introduction as well as the following three days.
For the four introduction techniques we found significant differences in the horses’ aggressive and submissive behaviour as well as in their total interactions. The introduction together with an integration horse led to significantly lower levels of aggression and less total interactions than the immediate introduction of single horses.
Horses which were introduced immediately or after an observation period showed significantly elevated levels of FCM on the first, second and third day after the introduction. For horses introduced together with an integration horse FCM were already significantly higher on the day of the introduction, indicating a stressful event before the introduction itself. In contrast, FCM levels were always very low when using the mixed technique.
In sum, horses have the ability to deal with conflict when they are introduced to new group members. The introduction event itself appears not to be as stressful as previously assumed. Standing together with an “integration horse” on a separate paddock and not being able to integrate immediately into a new group appears to be stressful for the newcomer. Based on the findings of our study we suggest to introduce new horses in group management together with a new group mate, a so-called “integration horse”. This would reduce the number of total social interactions as well as the aggression level. While this technique may be stressful for the newcomer, it lowers aggressive behaviour between the introduced horse and the group members and consequently reduces injury risks.
Keywords: Introduction technique; Aggression; Injury risk; Endocrine response; Stress; Integration horse
Krueger., K., & Farmer, K. (2018). Social learning in Horses: Differs from individual learning only in the learning stimulus and not in the learning mechanisms. In 14th Meeting of the Internatinoal Society for Equitation Science.
Abstract: Equine welfare can be enhanced by applying species specific training. This may incorporate social learning, as horses are highly social and social stimuli are of primary importance. Social learning is comparable to individual learning in its learning mechanisms, differing primarily in the way it is stimulated. Our initial study showed that horses of different breeds (N = 38) follow humans after observing other horses doing so, but only if the observed horse was familiar to and higher ranking than the observer (Fisher's exact test: N = 12, P = 0.003). A second study showed that horses and ponies (N = 25) learned to pull a rope to open a feeding apparatus after observing demonstrations by conspecifics, again, only if the demonstrating horse was older and higher ranking than the observer (Fisher's combination test, N = 3, v2 = 27.71, p = 0.006). Our third approach showed that horses and ponies (N = 24) learned to press a switch to open a feeding apparatus after observing a familiar person (GzLM: N = 24, z = 2.33, P = 0.02). Most recently, we confronted horses and ponies (N = 50) with persons demonstrating different techniques for opening a feeding apparatus. In this study we investigated whether the horses would copy the demonstrators' techniques or apply their own. Here only some horses copied the technique, and most of the successful learners used their mouths irrespective of the demonstrators' postures (Chi Square Test: N = 40, df = 2, χ2 = 31.4, p < 0.001). In all the approaches social stimuli elicited learning processes in the test horses, while only a few individuals in the control groups mastered the tasks by individual learning. The following behaviour observed in the initial study may have been facilitated by a social stimuli (social facilitation), and the opening of the feed boxes in the subsequent studies appear to be mostly the result of enhancement (social enhancement). Some horses may have used the social stimuli at first and continued their learning process by individual trial and error. However, the horses were also selective in whom and some in how to copy. This may have been conditioned (socially conditioned) or the result of simple forms of reasoning on the reliability of the particular information provided by demonstrators of certain social ranks or social positions, as high ranking and familiar horses and familiar persons were copied and some imitated exactly.
Lay person message: Traditional riding instructions suggest that horses learn by observing other horses. For example, older, more experienced driving horses are used for initial training of young driving horses. We have shown that horses indeed use learning stimuli provided by other horse, as well as by humans. Horses readily accept stimuli observed in high ranking and familiar horses, and familiar persons. Such stimuli elicit learning processes which are comparable to individual learning. We suggest applying social learning whenever possible, as it is much faster and less stressful than individual learning, where learners experience negative outcomes in trial and error learning.