Researchers Use GPS to Study Mare and Foal Movement

Scientists examined how the pairs’ spatial distance evolve between each other, as well as between other herd members.
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Researchers Use GPS to Study Mare and Foal Movement
Researchers confirmed that in the early months, the mare-foal distance remained similar to the mare-mare distance and foal-foal distance. However, after four months, the foals began to spend significantly more time grazing away from their dams. | Photo: iStock
Mare and foal behavior research just got techier: In a new study by Japanese researchers, foals and their dams provided precise, objective data about their movement in relationship to one another by wearing lightweight GPS devices on their halters. The results, the researchers said, gave never-before-observed insight into how these pairs evolve in their spatial distance between each other, as well as between them and other herd members.

While visual observation has been useful in the past, the GPS data provide a clear, objective look at where horses go and how they behave, said Fumio Sato, PhD, of the Japan Racing Association’s Hidaka Training and Research Center, in Hokkaido.

For example, in the six mare-foal couples they studied from one to six months after birth, the researchers confirmed that in the early months, the mare-foal distance remained similar to the mare-mare distance and foal-foal distance, he said. However, after four months, the foals began to spend significantly more time grazing away from their dams. And by five to six months, the mare-foal distance was significantly greater than the foal-foal distance. On a practical level, this could provide support for the decision to wean foals at about this age, as they begin to spend more time with their peers, Sato said.

Their research also yielded interesting data about herd dynamics, he added

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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