Krueger, Konstanze and Flauger, Birgit
Social feeding decisions in horses (Equus caballus).
Behavioural Processes 78 (1), pp. 76-83.
Like many other herbivores, in a natural environment equids feed on rather evenly distributed resources. However, the vegetation in their vast habitats constantly changes. If food is plentiful only little competition occurs over food, and in non-competitive situations domestic horses tend to return to the same feeding site until it is overgrazed. In contrast, they compete over limited food for which the social status of the individuals appears to be important. Especially in ruminants several studies have proved an influence of social organisations, rank, sex and the depletion of feeding sites on the feeding behaviour of individuals. However, it is not yet understood whether and how social aspects affect horses´ feeding decisions. Curiosity about the influence of social rank on the horses´ feeding decisions between two, equally with high-quality surplus food filled buckets placed in different social feeding conditions, led us to create the test below. The observer horses were alternately tested with a dominant and a subordinate demonstrator placed in one of three different positions. We conclude that domestic horses use social cognition and strategic decision making in order to decide where to feed in a social feeding situation. When possible they tend to return to the same, continuously supplied feeding site and switch to an “avoidance tendency” in the presence of dominant horses or when another horse is already feeding there. Thus, the social rank and the position of conspecifics affect the feeding strategy of horses.