Ashley Griffin, University of Kentucky

Animal behavioralists have classified the social behavior of horses (and other animals) into the following categories:

Mare's head
  • Contactual behavior – behavior related to seeking affection, protection, or similar benefits derived from contact with other animals
  • Ingestive behavior – behavioral activities associated with eating and drinking
  • Eliminative behavior – behavioral activities associated with defecation and urination
  • Sexual behavior – behavior related to mating between males and females
  • Epimeletic behavior – behavior related to giving care and attention, most commonly between a mare and foal but also between other horses (for example, horses standing together under shade or “swishing” flies from one another)
  • Allelomimetic behavior – behavior related to mimicry; contagious or infectious behavior, such as when one horse copies the behavior of another (for example, if one horse starts running, others are likely to join in)
  • Investigative behavior – behavioral activities associated with curiosity or the exploration of surroundings or objects
  • Agonistic behavior – behavior associated with conflict or fighting, including anger, aggression, submission, and flight from conflict. Sometimes behavioralists separate this behavior into two categories – aggression and fearfulness
  • Dominance\submission – behavioral activities often referred to as “pecking order” (early behavioral work in this area was done with poultry). Dominance hierarchies are extremely prevalent in the social order of horses. Dominance is generally established through agonistic behavior and may be extremely violent (fighting between stallions) or as simple as threatening looks (ears pinned back and squeals). If the lower-ranked (submissive) animal has room to escape, often no contact occurs, and the hierarchy is therefore established or maintained with little or no fighting.