Class Reunion, Horse Style
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.