Horse Hierarchy Test Doesn’t Always Agree With Pasture Pecking Order

The “bucket test” has its place but it can give significantly different results than an all-day field test of horses at pasture. That’s especially true for lower-ranking horses, researchers said.
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Horse Hierarchy
Knowing a group’s hierarchy, and paying attention to it, can help owners and breeders create and/or maintain more harmonious groups, the researchers said. | Photo: Courtesy Marie Roig-Pons

You know your horse-feeding routine backward and forward and which horse will meet you at his bucket first or last. Jack always eats before Jenny, who eats before Andy, who eats before Sam. So you’ve got the dominance and the social design of your herd all worked out. Right?

Now try watching them at pasture all day. And think again.

Swiss researchers have learned that the “bucket test,” used to determine horse dominance, has its place, but it can give significantly different results than an all-day field test of horses at pasture. That’s especially true, they said, for the lower-ranking horses

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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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