Horses' Facial Expressions Complex: Study stock photo © Frederic Guillory

Horses’ Facial Expressions Complex: Study

Those with opinionated horses may already have an idea, but researchers have confirmed that horses use a series of complex facial movements to express their emotions. And the human face is more similar to a horse’s than we may think.
The study EquiFACS: The Equine Facial Action Coding System, from the U.K.’s University of Sussex, states researchers found horses have a “rich facial repertoire”. Horses have 17 defined facial actions. Although that number is less than a human’s 27, it is more than a dog’s 16 facial actions or a chimp’s 13. Cats on the other hand have 21 facial actions, largely due to their whiskers and ear movements.
“The potential to make such cross species comparisons can enhance our understanding of the meaning, function, and evolution of communicative behavior,” the study states.
The horse’s 17 unique facial actions, including “ears forward”, “jaw drop”, “lip presser”, and “inner brow raiser”, are detailed along with how they help the horse communicate. The upper lip curl has been recorded in some pain expressions of the horse, but it is also seen in other, unrelated contexts, according to the study.
Researchers state until now the full capacity of the horse’s facial expressions has been largely overlooked, especially regarding positive experiences.
They say they are hopeful “EquiFACS can be applied to address this gap, with the potential to greatly facilitate future studies of horse welfare as well as extending our knowledge of equine communication and cognition.”