Effects of individual versus group stabling on social behaviour in domestic stallions

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Domestic horses (Equus caballus) are typically kept in individual housing systems, in which they are deprived of physical contact. In order to study the effects of social restrictions on behaviour in young horses, nineteen 2-year-old stallions were housed either singly (n ¼ 7), or in groups of three (n ¼ 12) for 9 months. Subsequently, the stallions were released into two separate 2 ha enclosures according to treatment, and recordings were made on social interactions and nearest neighbours during a 6-week-period, 28 h per week. Previously group stabled stallions frequently had a former group mate as their nearest neighbour (P ¼ 0:001), whereas previously singly stabled stallions did not associate more with their former box neighbours, to whom physical contact was limited by bars during the previous treatment. The nearest neighbour was more frequently recorded to be within one horselength of singly stabled than of group stabled stallions (P ¼ 0:005). More aggressive behaviour was recorded in the group of previously singly stabled stallions, i.e. bite threats (P ¼ 0:032), whereas group stabled stallions tended to make more use of subtle agonistic interactions (displacements, submissive behaviour). Singly stabled stallions also responded to the 9 months of social deprivation by significantly increasing the level of social grooming (P < 0:001) and play behaviour (P < 0:001), when subsequently interacting freely with other horses. The increased occurrence may relate to a build-up of motivation (a rebound effect), as well as to external factors, such as playful pasture companions and the increased space allowance of the pasture. It is concluded that 2-year-old domestic stallions are sensitive to social deprivation and that stabling has long-term effects, lasting 6 weeks at least, on the social behaviour in stallions. # 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved