Discrimination between conspecific odour samples in the horse

B Hothersall, PA Harris, L Sortoft, CJ Nicol

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)

    16 Citations (Scopus)


    Behavioural observations suggest that smell is important in social discriminations between horses but balanced studies of this capacity are lacking. We used a habituation–discrimination procedure to investigate the ability of horses to distinguish between pairs of odour samples from different individuals. In Study 1, separate tests were conducted for urine, faeces or fleece fabric previously rubbed on the coat (to pick up body odour samples (BOS)) and donor pairs differed in sex, and age. 10 pregnant mares each underwent three tests, one per sample type. A test consisted of three successive 2-min presentations of a sample from Individual A with a simultaneous presentation of a sample from Individual B during the final presentation. Doubly repeated measures ANOVA indicated a main effect of sample type on investigative response (df = 2, f = 7.98, P = 0.004): durations were longer for BOS than for urine or faeces but habituation across trials was most consistent for urine. In the final presentation, mares demonstrated discrimination by investigating the novel urine sample (B) more than the repeated sample (novel: median 8.0 s, IQR = 10; repeated: median 2.5 s, IQR = 6; z =−2.558, P = 0.008). In Study 2, urine samples from castrated male donors were used and neither mares nor their 4-month-old foals discriminated between samples from different individuals in the final presentation. The findings suggest that urine odourmaycontain some information that horses can use to discriminate between conspecifics. This may be limited to the level of broad categories such as sex or reproductive status; further investigation is needed to reveal what functional information can be transmitted and what compounds are involved. ©
    Translated title of the contributionDiscrimination between conspecific odour samples in the horse
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)37 - 44
    Number of pages8
    JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
    Volume126 (1-2)
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2010

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