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Equine Vet J Suppl. 1999 Apr;(28):15-9.

The importance of ethology in understanding the behaviour of the horse.

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Anthrozoology Institute, University of Southampton, Bassett Crescent East, Southampton S016 7PX, UK.


Domestication has provided the horse with food, shelter, veterinary care and protection, allowing individuals an increased chance of survival. However, the restriction of movement, limited breeding opportunities and a requirement to expend energy, for the benefit of another species, conflict with the evolutionary processes which shaped the behaviour of its predecessors. The behaviour of the horse is defined by its niche as a social prey species but many of the traits which ensured the survival of its ancestors are difficult to accommodate in the domestic environment. There has been a long association between horses and man and many features of equine behaviour suggest a predisposition to interspecific cooperation. However, the importance of dominance in human understanding of social systems has tended to overemphasize its importance in the human-horse relationship. The evolving horse-human relationship from predation to companionship, has resulted in serial conflicts of interest for equine and human participants. Only by understanding the nature and origin of these conflicts can ethologists encourage equine management practices which minimise deleterious effects on the behaviour of the horse.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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