Mom Always Liked You Best: Wild Horse Research Shows That Mares Pamper Colts More than Fillies

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Wild horse mares and foals in Australia are also being studied by the Wild Horse Research Group at the University of Queensland's School of Veterinary Science. GPS transmitters have been attached to some horses to monitor their location and the distances covered. Learn more about the Australian studies at Australia has more wild horses (and wild camels) than any country on earth. (Photo by Dr Chris Pollitt)


What will a mother sacrifice for her child? Lots more for her son than for her daughter, if she's a wild horse mare.

Researchers from the University of Pretoria in South Africa trekked to the mountains of New Zealand to observe wild horse parental behavior, and suggest that the behavior mirrors human tendencies.

The mares often sacrificed more for colts in order to provide more milk and spent more time playing with colts than with fillies. Physical condition of mares raising colts was often worse than those raising fillies. Researchers presume that the most active and best fed colts developed into the strongest and healthiest stallions. Since horses are polygynous, the mare's genetic influence is increased by a colt who will go on to breed more offspring.

The scientists did mention the catch that if a colt does not grow up to be a dominant male, he will not be able to pass on the mother's genetic code, whereas chances are good that fillies do at least produce a number of offspring over their lifetime.

The scientific research will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Animal Behavior, but is capsulated in a terrific article prepared by the Discovery channel's web site. Comparisons are made to sex-preference studies in human mothers.

I have read studies like this before but this report is interesting because of the focus not just on the size of colts vs fillies but also the physical activity levels. Do colts play more and grow larger and stronger because they receive better care and nutrition from the mares? Or does their larger size and activity level require more nutrition and attention?