Horses — majestic animals that capture the imagination because of their beauty and grace. But these magnificent creatures are also, as it turns out, all about cliques and the fields where they roam is a lot more like a middle school cafeteria than you may have thought. Yup, horses are gorgeous but they are also most likely talking bad about each other and plotting to steal boyfriends and girlfriends.
What does a horse clique look like? Ask researcher Léa Briard, who is doing her PhD research in horse socialization at the Institut Pluridisciplinaire Hubert Curien in Strasbourg, France. She’s always been a huge fan of horses, but is looking at their behavior in groups and how decisions are made, according to an in-depth look at her research on Jezebel.
For 200 hours, Briard and her team kept close eye on how three dozen mares interacted and moved, noting fear signals and groupings of horses. They were able to piece together the hierarchy in their group of horses, and started to get an understanding of the traits that indicate extra-social horses versus those who spend time on their own.
Here’s where it gets clique-ish. If a horse showed signs of fearfulness, they were more likely to spend time close to their friends. They were also more likely to follow their friends around, and most often their friends share similar personalities and social rank, because horses have a complex hierarchy based in part on age. Briard was able to figure out what that hierarchy looked like by seeing the gangs formed, the mares who avoided each other and the fights that broke out.
As for the braver horses, they more often broke with the group to go chill elsewhere, whether their friends followed or not. Much like middle school, the horses who did their own thing might not have had a gaggle of girls running around with them at all times, but they will almost certainly be validated when they get to high school.
So a lot is going on when it comes to horse friendships, and it’s not all riding wild and free across the fields. Even animals have to deal with the stress of social status, making friends, and finding ways to fit in (or deciding to stand out and pick their own shade tree to hang out under). It may not be the stuff of fairy tales, but it definitely makes you look at horses in a new, more sympathetic way. Hang in there, brave misfit horses. Things get better when you grow up, don’t they?
For more on Briard’s research, check out Jezebel’s post.
(Image via Shutterstock)