QuickCheck: Do horses and humans share facial expressions?

WHEN it comes to decoding the language of emotion, humans have long been considered the experts.

Yet, recent research from the University of Sussex suggests that our equine companions might have more to say than we previously thought.

So, is it true that horses and humans share facial expressions?



In a study published by PLOS One, scientists unveil the complexity of horse facial expressions, revealing that these majestic creatures possess a repertoire of 17 discrete movements—just one shy of the human count.

Lead researcher Jennifer Wathan and her team analysed horse heads to map the underlying musculature, meticulously observing over 15 hours of behavioural footage, and employing the Equine Facial Action Coding System (EquiFACS) to catalogue facial gestures.

The findings are nothing short of revelatory. From raising inner eyebrows to pulling back lip corners, horses exhibit a remarkable array of expressions mirroring those seen in humans.

These parallels not only hint at shared evolutionary origins but also offer insights into interspecies communication.

One particularly intriguing finding is the horses' ability to remember and respond to human emotional expressions—a discovery that underscores the depth of their cognitive capabilities.

Horses, it seems, possess not only the capacity to read human emotions but also to adapt their behaviour accordingly, a testament to their remarkable sensitivity and intelligence.

From the show ring to the pasture, horses communicate a rich tapestry of emotions through subtle facial cues—a language that, until now, has remained largely uncharted. As we delve deeper into the nuances of equine expression, one thing becomes abundantly clear: when it comes to conveying emotion, a horse is no one-trick pony.


1. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0131738

2. https://edition.cnn.com/2018/06/26/sport/horse-facial-expressions-spt/index.html

3. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/article/explore-animals-horse-facial-expressions

4. https://www.sussex.ac.uk/broadcast/read/31710

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