Researchers Study Horses’ Facial Expressions

Horses are capable of a wide range of facial expressions that aren’t so different from those of humans and chimpanzees.
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If you’re happy and you know it clap your … hooves?

While horses might not be clapping in tune to that emotionally expressive song, it does seem that if they’re happy and they know it, their faces will surely show it. Recent study results suggest horses are capable of a wide range of facial expressions that aren’t so different from those of humans and chimpanzees.

And though the horses probably won’t be “smiling,” per se, they do still have a “rich repertoire of complex facial movements,” many of which are surprisingly similar to humans, said lead study author Jennifer Wathan, PhD candidate, researcher in the Mammal Vocal Communication and Cognition Research at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom.

However, just because horses have similar facial expressions doesn’t mean those expressions necessarily represent the same emotions that they do for people, she added. Determining the association between expressions and feelings is an upcoming project for Wathan and her team. But first it was essential to determine exactly what expressions horses are capable of making

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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