Until recently, free range horses haven't been given the same long term ethnographic study as elephants. The recent introduction of studies upon free ranging groups of horses have turned up surprising results. That mares run their groups, not the stallions, is something that horse owners who have close contact with their horses have long always known.
We've learned from long term studies that cooperative behaviors among female elephants is normal, but most of us have no idea that it is the same among wild horses.
|Garrano in northern Portuguese mountain range - winter|
Fending off unwanted suitors is not the only means by which mares rebel. For years Laura Lagos and Felipe Bárcena, both at the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, have been studying the behavior of Garranos, an unusual type of free-roaming horse. Garranos live rough, tough lives in the rugged hills of northwestern Spain and northern Portugal, where they are under constant threat from wolves. In the course of their work, Lagos and Bárcena catalogued the behavior of a pair of mares in one band that were strongly bonded with each other and that often stood just a bit apart from the rest of the band.
At breeding time, the mares went together to visit the stallion of another band. Lagos watched one of the mares consort with this stallion rather than with the stallion from her own band. Then the mares returned to their original group. When the second mare was ready to breed, the duo again deserted their original band and its stallion to consort with the other stallion. Then, again, they returned to their original group. This was not an anomaly. The mares did the same thing the following year. “They prefer their own territory, but the stallion of the other band,” she told me.