I like the idea but it is the first time I hear of such a thing as horse buddies in a herd. I have always looked at a herd as an environment of dominant ranking challenges for all horses.
Madeleine, I'm fairly certain that in any and all ethologists studies, white papers and books that the 'Peer Attachment' relationship will be mentioned. Different ethologists refer to it by different names such as: affiliated pairing, nonsexual bonding, pair bond, mutually beneficial coalitions or preferred associates.
In fact, here's an article about grief response in the Peer Attachment relationship.
(Reprinted with full permission of the author.)
Grief Response Management
(The stress of loss)
By Dr. Kenneth L. Marcella DVM
Ben and Doc had been together for a long time. They were born in the same area and lived and actually worked together, side by side, for many years. They retired to the same place and had been spending their elderly days quietly. But Doc hadnâ€™t been feeling well lately, became ill and then, quickly, passed away. Ben was devastated. He stopped eating, didnâ€™t want to move around much or to do any of the things that had occupied his previous days. He wouldnâ€™t interact with anyone around him and he became severely withdrawn. Without his friend to do things with, he became inactive and started losing weight and muscle condition. His arthritis, which had been doing well, became worse. Not eating enough began to weaken his energy and his immune system. He started to become anemic and dehydrated and showed all the signs of physical and psychological depression.
This is not an unusual scenario and the loss of a close friend or a loved one can be seriously stressing to people, especially to the elderly. But Ben and Doc are horses and while the â€œstress of lossâ€ is not commonly addressed in equine veterinary medicine, it can still be a very real problem and a cause of concern. Loss and bereavement is more commonly dealt with as it applies to the feelings people have after losing a pet. Veterinarians have become so aware of their special role in this potentially devastating event that some clinics and veterinary schools now have â€œgrief counselorsâ€ and there are many reference sources, support groups, and even â€œpet lossâ€ chat rooms to help people deal with this trauma. But there is almost nothing written and virtually no research, surprisingly, dealing with the reaction of animals to the loss of a partner or close herd mate. Animal behaviorists caution that it is not always correct to think and speak anthropomorphically (giving human feelings and characteristics to animals) but owners and trainers feel that they can tell when a horse is feeling happy, playful, contented, angry, bored, tired, upset or any number of other emotions. And most veterinarians, even if they do not use these terms, recognize similar behavioral expressions. In cases like that of Ben and Doc, the surviving horse often shows signs of classical depression and, in the words of most of horseowners, acts sad.
There may be more science to the way animals seems to act, however, and Dr. Crowell-Davis, DVM, Ph.D. and board certified animal behaviorialist at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine assures us that these interpretative evaluations of how animals â€œfeelâ€ in response to certain situations are fairly accurate. â€œThe use of PET scans (positron emission tomography) provide researchers with an evaluation of mental states based on brain activity and neurochemical changes noted in response to specific stimuli,â€ explains Dr. Crowell-Davis. A person is presented with a stimulus that causes them to be happy, for instance, and the PET scan records their pattern of brain activity and the chemical changes that occur in the brain during that time period. Additionally, certain drugs can be given that produce specific feelings and the resultant brain activity and chemistry can be recorded. â€œWhen animals are recorded showing the same patterns of brain activity and the same brain chemical changes that correspond to a particular human emotion or mood state,â€ says Dr. Crowell-Davis, â€œ it would not be logical of us to assume that they are not experiencing similar feelingsâ€. Based on how closely some horses correspond to the classical signs of clinical depression and on how intense the individual responses can be, the loss of a close companion is felt as sadness by horses and they can certainly express grief.
While it is not known how animals interpret or understand â€œdeathâ€, many owners and veterinarians feel that there is some form of comprehension. When one of a pair of horses dies, the remaining horse may be severely affected or may show little response. Dr. K. Houpt, DVM, Ph.D., physiologist and animal behaviorialist at the New York State College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University points out that there is a tremendous variation in the amount of attachment shown by individual horses, â€œsome horses tend to form stronger and more numerous â€œfriendshipsâ€,â€ and in the attachment shown for a particular individual, â€œ a specific horse may be extremely bonded to one other horse and yet exhibit no concern for other horses in the same groupâ€. Equine maternal behavior follows this pattern of variability as well and when a young foal dies the mare may respond strongly with vocalization, anxiety and frenzied activity. This response may be mild to severe and will last for differing durations depending on the mare. Both Drs. Houpt and Crowell-Davis recommend allowing the mare to spend time with her dead foal. Most mares will examine the foal and move away, return, and move away again repeatedly. Depending on the variability of the individual, this process will take several hours but the mare will eventually begin ignoring the foal and it can then be removed. Mares treated in this way show much less vocalizing and anxiety. They grieve and â€œ as far as we can tell at this point, they come to some realization of deathâ€,â€ according to Dr. Crowell-Davis. Actually any time a horse dies it is recommended that other horses that may have been close to the deceased horse be allowed to spend time near it. The â€œgrief responseâ€ seen in horses given this opportunity seems to be lessened and the amount of time until a return to near normal behavior is far shortened.
Even when allowed to spend time with a departed herd mate however, some horses, like Ben in our example, show an exaggerated depth of depression and can present with physical problems that are really physiologically based. The appropriate treatment for these horses is similar to that used with depressed humans. Supportive therapy should address any metabolic concerns such as arthritis, dehydration and poor food intake. Behavioral treatment is aimed at getting the horse interested in its environment again. Special foods, increased play and interaction time with the owner (even something as simple as additional grooming can be very beneficial) and communication with other horses may be required. The introduction of other horses may be probablematic however as some horses, especially older animals, may resent new herd mates and this additional stress may worsen the situation. Dr. Houpt recommends adding a new horse to the herd, when possible, before one of an older pair of horses becomes ill. This is not always possible but, if early illness is noted, another horse can be added to the group so that there is a pre-existing bond with this new horse to help with the loss of an older herd mate. Many owners and trainers can identify this â€œuniversally acceptableâ€ herd mate on their farm. This is a special horse that seems to â€œget along with everybody and be liked by everybodyâ€. This is the older gelding that serves as companion for all weaned foals and is the first horse that newcomers to the farm are turned out with. It is not known why these special horses are so accepted but they make excellent choices for the horses to introduce to a pair of ailing geriatrics or other situations where one horse may die soon. It is important to â€œpair-upâ€ horses of similar dispositions and activity levels however and care and attention should be paid to choosing a new mate for a horse that is soon to lose an old mate.
If behavioral treatment is not sufficient then medical treatment may be needed. This is especially true for those horses that show such severe grief that they are in danger of colic, anemia, dehydration and kidney problems or of any other metabolic concerns made worse by clinical depression. Initial treatment with Valium can lessen anxiety and stimulate appetite. Since this drug produces a quick effect it is most commonly used as the first step in treatment. Fluoxentine Hydrochloride (Prozac) is the drug that then would be used as a longer-term treatment. Prozac is much slower acting and the dosage range is quite variable so an exact dose will need to be worked out for each individual horse. This combination of Valium followed by Prozac has been helpful in lessening the extreme grief and depression seen in some horses. Methylphenidate (Ritalin) has also been tried as a means of decreasing anxiety but is not as rewarding as the Valium/Prozac approach. After horses return to more normal activity while on the Prozac, herd additions can be made and if successful, the dosage of Prozac can be gradually decreased and then discontinued.
Anyone who has spent time around horses will tell you that they can be happy and pleased or angry and discontent They do have emotions and they can certainly interact with their environment and feel things. When horses die, other horses close to them exhibit grief-like behavior, which can become excessive at times. Recognition of this phenomenon is important for equine veterinarians because clients will seek help in dealing with these situations. Being aware of â€œgrief lossâ€ in horses and being willing to help treat these situations will allow you to help both horses and their owners. It is likely that we will eventually find that many behavioral and emotional states currently assigned only to humans, such as paranoia, schizophrenia, attention deficit disorders and many others are all found in horses. Their recognition, diagnosis and treatment will help improve life for many horses that are currently thought of as â€œun-trainableâ€, â€œspookyâ€, or simply â€œcrazyâ€. It actually may be far crazier to assume that these horses do not feel many of the same things that we do, and need treatment just as much.
Chuck & Kids
Lady, Able, Sundance, Boss & Combustion
( And Rebel & Nikki )