Class Re­union, Horse Style

Practical Horseman - - Inside Your Ride -

When for­mer sta­ble­mates are re­united af­ter a long time apart, they may nicker greet­ings or, just as likely, seem com­pletely in­dif­fer­ent to each other. Do they rec­og­nize each other?

“That’s hard to es­tab­lish sci­en­tif­i­cally. How do you de­ter­mine recog­ni­tion? But I have no doubt that they do,” Sue McDon­nell, PhD, says. “The ponies we study clearly know their fam­i­lies within the herd. If a pony es­capes, it will run straight back to its fam­ily when it is re­turned, even when the herd has moved to a dif­fer­ent field.”

Like wild horses, these ponies live to­gether for years and form long-last­ing re­la­tion­ships. Most sport horses lead a dif­fer­ent life—shipped to dif­fer­ent barns and com­pe­ti­tions, stalled and per­haps turned out alone, with a ro­tat­ing cast of sta­ble­mates. Their “bands” are con­stantly chang­ing. How well these horses re­call a long-lost buddy may de­pend on how much time the two horses spent to­gether. And how they re­act when re­united may de­pend on the re­la­tion­ship they had pre­vi­ously—some­thing Dr. McDon­nell says isn’t al­ways easy for peo­ple to judge.

“Horses sta­bled or turned out to­gether can be­come closely bonded and even call for each other when sep­a­rated. That doesn’t al­ways mean they are es­pe­cially fond of each other,” she says. “Sep­a­rated and put with other com­pan­ions, they quickly form new bonds. When the orig­i­nal bud­dies are re­united in a new group, they may pre­fer other pals to each other.”

Re­searchers be­lieve that horses rec­og­nize each other af­ter an ex­tended time apart, but it’s dif­fi­cult to prove.

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