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Why we think horses are meaner than they are
When scientists want to study how horses interact, they often do it by trying to figure out which horse is more aggressive and how this aggression is shown. The result is that aggressive and defensive behaviour in domestic horses - also known as agonistic behaviour- is well catalogued and documented. Equine affiliative behaviour, however, which could be popularly termed "bonding behaviour" is poorly understood because nobody seems interested in studying these behaviours or writing books about them.
According to ethologist Lucy Rees, truly free living horses show almost no aggression at all. They do not establish pecking orders like domestic horses do and the vast majority of their interactions are friendly. In this feature, Lucy Rees talks about the subtle bonding behaviours which horses use to establish and maintain their close social relations with other horses. These behaviours are even directed at people sometimes, but are easily missed if you don't know what they are. Or worse: Mistaken for "dominance" and punished.