Free laffs Wednesday

When I saw this story last week, the image totally cracked me up:

It’s true!  Graduate student Léa Briard’s dissertation research reveals the hierarchies among female horses:

If you spent some part of your childhood wishing you could run with wild horses, you’re not alone. But you might have been alone once you joined the herd. Horses, it turns out, are just as cliquey as fifth-grade girls.

Horses are all over YA literature, using their soulful eyes to connect deeply with kids and other humans. They gallop through the Saddle Club series, War Horse, and My Friend Flicka—all the way back to Black Beauty, which got a jump on the genre in 1877. Some of the protagonists of horse books are boys, but girls are always the famous horse lovers, whether they prefer the fictional or ride-able kind.

Why girls are so enamored of large, indentured grazers is an open question. But even scientists aren’t immune. “As a child I used to love horses,” says Léa Briard, a graduate student at the Institut Pluridisciplinaire Hubert Curien in Strasbourg, France. “They were my favorite animal.”

.       .       .       .       .

They saw that the friendliest horses were also the most fearful. It sounds counterintuitive, but Briard says you can see the same effect in sheep, fish, and birds. “The more fearful you are, the more time you spend close to other individuals,” she says. In other words, horses that hang out by themselves are braver. If your inner preteen loner wants to feel smug about this, let her.

To Briard’s surprise, the horses were also very particular about their friends. They preferred to spend time near others with similar personalities. Not only that, but horses stuck close to others with a similar social rank.

Deciphering the social hierarchy of the herd wasn’t as simple as seeing which mares had the nicest hair. But the researchers figured it out by watching which horses ran away when others approached them aggressively. Higher-ranking horses also tended to be older.

Bold horses—the less friendly, braver mares—were more likely to break away from the group and head for a new patch of grass. Whenever a horse struck out like this, her friends (however uncool) were among the first to follow her.

Draw your own conclusions for the human world from this report.  I have to think about this a little bit myself.  (BTW, how was your first faculty meeting?)

8 thoughts on “Free laffs Wednesday

  1. I hear it was good. (Meeting). Missed it. On the road. It was scheduled, per usual, the week before we had to be back, and I just didn’t had to be back. There’s a small, Philadelphia-area somewhat up-market convenience store chain named after George Washington’s supposedly favorite horse from the Old War, viz. Old Nelson. Looks like the horse equivalent of a Panda Bear to judge from the image on the coffee cups; had a whole barn to himself at Mt. Vernon, according to the lore.


  2. Anyone who’s spent time with horses is unsurprised by this. Mares are in charge and mares mean business. If you have even a small herd, the mares will establish a pecking order. At the stable we spend time at, they run up to four horses in the same paddock and constantly watch to see who’s not happy with their pasture mates. Lately Oscar, the buckskin gelding that Eldest rides, has been sharing a paddock with Holly, a lovely black mare owned by a former student. He’s a lot happier than he was in his last pasture with three other geldings who bullied him somewhat. Holly bosses him around, but he’s happy with that.


  3. The first department meeting was tolerable. I avoided the college and university wide meetings.

    My preschool age daughter is deeply into My Little Ponies right now. She likes the cartoon but prefers to play with the dolls (action figures) with mom or dad. The first thing she does is establish a pecking order for the ponies. Moma pony is always in charge. Plus the daughter writes the script. I know playing ponies will involve being bossed around by my pre-school Kim Jong un, I try to get her to play blocks instead.


    • HAHAhahaha!!! Yes, they do like to write the scripts. When my daughter was that age, it wasn’t actually that fun to play with her because she kept telling me that I was doing it wrong. She wouldn’t let me innovate at all! Turn about is fair play, I guess, considering that parents rule the other 97% of the time, right?

      My Little Ponies are very soothing and gentle toys, but blocks were always my favorite!


      • Yes, Historiann, you are absolutely right: Parents totally rule the roost in the daily grind, but it is an honor to be invited to play in a four-year-old’s world.

        The thing that amazes me is that my daughter is a little narrative generating machine. She has been since she learned to talk. Its overwhelming sometimes. I can’t tell if its gendered, a developmental stage, or just her personality. I was talking with a couple of colleagues and their children (a boy and a girl) are kind of the same, not much interest in playing ball or physical games, but they can play make believe until the cows come home.


  4. I just spent part of the day telling sections of mostly freshmen how I used to get regularly murdered on the game _The Oregon Trail_, by a five year old! Too much bacon, not enough wagon tongues, the whole universe of unforced strategic migration errors that only a historian could make. My epitaph, somewhere out near Chimney Rock? _Shouldn’t Have Let Indyanna Drive the Train!_ No horse-related errors, that I can remember, anyway.


  5. First set of faculty meetings (because you can never have too many, am I right?) were fine. Prefer not to think about how horse hierarchies bring back middle-school miseries .


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