Family Ties

Part of the Horse exhibition.

horse running
Horses running on the range.
Shari L. Morris/AGE Fotostock

The need to avoid being alone is a powerful instinct for horses. In the wild, horses evolved in constant danger from predators such as wolves and mountain lions. They seek safety in numbers by living in herds. Young horses, or foals, always travel with their mothers in a family group guarded by a male horse, the lead stallion. Even young males, who must fight other stallions for the right to lead a family, often band together with other bachelor stallions.

Hey, Wait For Me!

Jumping can be frightening and dangerous for horses. So how do you get a young horse to jump over a fence for the first time? One way is to exploit the herd instinct: A young horse will follow an older horse over a fence to avoid being left behind.

Buddy System

Horses often pair off and form close partnerships with other members of their herd. But if they can't find a horse to partner with, they sometimes befriend another animal like a goat or housecat. This instinct also helps them bond with humans.


Horses spend a lot of time scratching each others' backs with their teeth. This grooming strengthens social bonds, reduces tension and increases trust. Similar grooming can help a human gain a horse's trust as well. Research shows that brushing the neck and back can lower a horse's heart rate by 11 to 14 percent--a clear sign of relaxation.