Horses Use Complex Facial Expressions Nearly Identical To Humans

The ability to use complex facial expressions to convey emotion isn’t unique to humans — chimpanzees, dogs and cats also possess this ability. Scientists are finding that horses, too, show their feelings on their faces.

In a new study, psychologists from the U.K.’s University of Sussex found that horses use a range of muscular movements to form dynamic facial expressions that are sometimes nearly identical to those of humans.

The researchers compiled a directory of horse facial movements, published online this week in the journal PLOS One, which offers a glimpse into the complex socioemotional lives of horses.

“Horses are undoubtedly emotional animals,” Jennifer Wathan, a doctoral researcher at the University of Sussex and one of the study’s authors, told The Huffington Post. “But what they feel and how that is expressed is a question that we have yet to pin down.”

In a variety of social situations, horses move the muscles in their faces — largely the muscles around the nostrils, lips and eyes — to create multiple different expressions that communicate information to other horses.

Wathan and her colleagues devised a comprehensive coding system to better understand common equine facial actions, which they named EquiFACS (Equine Facial Action Coding System). They identified 17 different facial actions — including “ears forward,” “eye white increase,” “tongue show” and “lip presser” — that horses combine to create their expressions.

“Facial expressions are made up of a number of different complicated movements that overlap in a dynamic way,” Wathan said. “The Equine Facial Action Coding System gives us a way in which we can make sense of these dynamic and complex forms of communication.”

The new research could be put to good use in veterinary settings or in horse training programs. An animator is even using the findings to —> Read More