EQUUS - - Medical Front -

study, re­searchers had hy­poth­e­sized that the dom­i­nant mares would pro­duce more dom­i­nant off­spring. The data, how­ever, showed this wasn’t the case. “We found no in­flu­ence of ma­ter­nal rank on foal dom­i­nance be­hav­ior,” says Martina Komárková, PhD, “although we ex­pected to from the be­gin­ning.”

In­stead, ex­plains Komárková, a young­ster’s age---and, by de­fault, the time spent in the new herd---seemed to be the most sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor in de­ter­min­ing his rank. Those off­spring born ear­li­est in the year and hav­ing been in the group the long­est tended to be the most dom­i­nant, re­gard­less of their dam’s so­cial stand­ing.

Komárková notes that ma­ture horses of­ten fall in herd rank­ings as they get older, but age ap­pears to be an ad­van­tage for a young horse look­ing to es­tab­lish his place in a group. “There may be sev­eral months be­tween horses born in the same year, which lead to weight and height dis­pro­por­tion as well as ‘fight­ing’ skills de­vel­oped through play,” she says.

It’s pos­si­ble, Komárková says, that the rel­a­tively early wean­ing dates used in the study didn’t al­low foals enough time to learn dom­i­nant be­hav­ior from their dams, but the com­plex­ity of herd dy­nam­ics makes it hard to iden­tify the most in­flu­en­tial fac­tors. “Be­ing dom­i­nant is a com­plex task, de­pend­ing not only on age but also on ag­gres­sion, ex­pe­ri­ence, weight, skill­ful­ness and, of course, the struc­ture and char­ac­ter­is­tics of the herd.” What is clear, how­ever, is that ma­ter­nal rank alone doesn’t de­ter­mine a foal’s place in his own herd later on.

Ref­er­ence: “Age and group res­i­dence but not ma­ter­nal dom­i­nance af­fect dom­i­nance rank in young do­mes­tic horses,” Jour­nal of An­i­mal Sci­ence, Novem­ber 2014

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