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- Observed at night during winter and dawn/dusk during summer (Schlichting et al. 2020)
- May also provide some refuge from biting flies
- Observed to shift habitat use and increase comforting behaviors when flies are abundant (King and Gurnell 2010)
- Reduced horses' feeding time
- 24-hours study at National Zoo harem at Front Royal in 1988
- Activity budget
- <46% feeding
- .5% drinking
- 20.5% standing
- 16% stand-resting
- 2% self-grooming
- 2% mutual grooming
- 7% locomotion
- 1% playing
- 5% recumbency
- Feeding peaked at night (68% between 2000-2400)
- Recumbency peaked at night (most from 0000-0400)
- Kaleta et al. (2017) observed behavior of a small herd at Warsaw Zoo
- Most common behaviors
- Comfort-seeking behaviors
Few studies in the wild
- Hustai National Park: 120-2,400 ha (King and Gurnell 2005)
- Great Gobi B Strictly Protected Area: 150-825 km² (Kaczensky et al. 2008).
- Snapping, champing, tooth-clapping – usually employed by young animals
- When threatening or being threatened, ears are flattened against the skull with teeth exposed
- Bite with ears back, neck extended
- Kick with hind legs
- Herding (snaking) – usually by stallion to drive mares.
- Head and neck may be moved in snake-like manner.
- 2 stallions prance next to each other with necks arched
- Dominant stallions within a herd will become aggressive with young males when reach approximately 2 years of age
- Young males then leave their natal harem group
- May compete for valued resources, such as saltlicks (Gashchak and Paskevych 2019) or valued foods in managed care (Zharkikh and Andersen 2009)
- Left eye/side agonistic and vigilance behavior bias observed by Austin and Rogers (2014) in a reserve-living herd in France
- More pronounced in males and immature individuals
- Collective movements
- Start and stop movements together (Bourjade et al. 2009)
- No one, consistent leader
- Respond to behavior of departing individual(s)
- Conflicts in group decision making tend to arise when changing activities or habitat areas
- Females observed to disperse from natal group to new group formed by unfamiliar male (Tatin et al. 2009)
- Bachelor male groups in managed care (findings from Zharkikh and Andersen 2009)
- Spend time in close proximity to one another
- Larger herds form subgroups
- Friendly behaviors indicate social bonding
- Tolerant of juveniles of other subgroups
Visual and tactile communication
- Mutual grooming
- Partners stand in reverse parallel position
- Teeth are used to gently bite each others coat
- Wild stallions subdue mares with ‘lightening’ bites to crest and occasionally legs
- May chase and then turn and kick with hind legs
- Can then control with a ‘glance’
- When extremely angry (and prepared to fight), stallion lowers head until it almost touches the ground
- Then circles mares or another stallion
- When threatening or being threatened, ears are flattened against the skull, teeth exposed
- In groups that have been part of reintroduction efforts, dominant stallions in harem groups take on leadership role, defending the herd against intruders and predators, and herding mares.
- Indicates expectancy of food, water, another horse, etc.
- Frustration, fear, nostril cleaning
- Can be an ‘alarm call’
- Grunting ‘laugh'
- Given in encounters with aggression, by either the instigator or recipient
- Used by stallion in courtship
- Sometimes punctuated with sharp squeal
- Given in care-seeking or care-offering situation
- Given when seeking social interaction (Maigrot et al. 2017)
- Less commonly given when expecting food (Maigrot et al. 2017)
- Given during agonistic interactions (Maigrot et al. 2017)
- Also given if in pain and during sexual behavior (Maigrot et al. 2017)
- Given in a variety of situations (Maigrot et al. 2017)
- Most commonly given during social separation (Maigrot et al. 2017)
- Given when expecting food (Maigrot et al. 2017)
- Sometimes given during agonistic interactions (Maigrot et al. 2017)
- Stallions smell urine and feces of mares in their harem groups to determine whether in estrus (flehmen)
- Stallions exhibit marking behaviors (e.g., Zharkikh and Andersen 2009)
- Create stud piles to indicate territorial possession and harem possession to other stallions in the area
- Mark with urine
One of the Herd
A herd of Pzrewalski's horses at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
Dominant stallions protect herds from predators and intruders.
Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.
Note on behavior studies
- Behavioral information comes mainly from populations in managed care settings. Natural behavior of stallions has been compromised.
- Projections of wild population behavior are made by studying feral horses and from limited information on reintroduction efforts.
- Ethogram is published in Boyd & Houpt p. 196-208
Boyd & Houpt (1994)
Kaczensky et al. (2008)
King and Gurnell (2005)
SDZWA Library Links
Fact Sheet Index
Fact sheet index, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Library
Home page, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Library
Email the librarians at firstname.lastname@example.org