From the Foaling Barn

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Allogrooming

Colin and Pappita

Allogrooming or social grooming is common behavior in humans and many animal species, expecially in horses. Allogrooming is practiced by almost all horses living is herds, but it is most prevalent among mares. Mares tend to form long term pair bonds in which allogrooming is an important acitivity. In feral herds, mare bonding and allogrooming create herd cohesion and defuse aggressive behavior. Because it increases endorphins and diminishes stress, allogrooming is also beneficial to the well-being of individual mares.

Mares groom more than stallions or geldings, fillies groom more than colts, and young horses groom more than older horses. Allogrooming pairs tend to be loyal to one another over time. They tend to be similar in age but not necessarily rank. The one exception is the pair formed by dam and foal. The foal will begin to exhibit allogrooming behavior toward its mother within three days of birth, and begin to groom other foals within a few weeks.

When we put our old mare, Pappita Sunrise, out with the orphans, she eventually accepted Colin and allowed him to nurse. I often wondered if she accepted him and not Viktor because he is the same color as she and actually looks like he could be her own foal. However, he was much more persistent in wooing her. It took him several weeks until she was willing to let him nurse. I should say here that we realize he's getting nothing nutritional from her, but we are glad he was able to form this bond with her so that he would have a more normal foal experience.

And part of that foal experience he is having is allogrooming with his foster mom. But even before he and Pappita formed their bond, Colin and Viktor groomed one another. Colin was only with his mother Jodie for three days, but he may have experienced allogrooming behavior with her. But Viktor never had that early foal experience, so his embrace of allogrooming must be seen as instinct.

But even if it is only an instinct, to we humans it's an endearing trait in horses.

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