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Behav Processes. 2006 Sep;73(2):170-7. Epub 2006 May 19.

Social relationships in a herd of Sorraia horses Part I. Correlates of social dominance and contexts of aggression.

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Centro de Biologia Ambiental, Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa, Campo Grande, Edifício C2, 1749-016 Lisboa, Portugal.


Factors related to dominance rank and the functions of aggression were studied in a herd of Sorraia horses, Equus caballus, under extensive management. Subjects were 10 adult mares 5-18 years old and a stallion introduced into the group for breeding. Dominance relationships among mares were clear, irrespective of rank difference, and remained stable after introduction of the stallion. The dominance hierarchy was significantly linear and rank was positively correlated with age and total aggressiveness. Higher-ranking mares received lower frequency and intensity of agonistic interactions. Nevertheless, higher-ranking dominants were not more likely to elicit submission from their subordinates than lower-ranking dominants. Neither close-ranking mares nor mares with less clear dominance relationships were more aggressive towards each other. Agonistic interactions seemed to be used more importantly in regulation of space than to obtain access to food or to reassert dominance relationships. Contexts of aggression were related to mare rank. The results suggest that dominance relationships based on age as a conventional criterion were established to reduce aggressiveness in a herd where the costs of aggression are likely to outweigh the benefits.

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