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?)