Those who spend any time around horses know that they're expressive, both in their body language and their facial expressions. National Geographic reports that a horse is able to use 17 different facial movements to communicate. This number is impressive as it's one more facial movement than dogs have and four more than chimpanzees, though it's 10 fewer than humans have.
Researchers at the University of Sussex were able to determine how many facial movements a horse could make by dissecting a horse head. They then reviewed 15 hours of equine footage that showed 86 horses from a variety of breeds, that ranged in age from 4 weeks to 27 years old.
Lastly, the scientists used a EquiFACS (Equine Facial Action Coding System) to catalog the eye, chin, lip and nostril movements they saw on the footage. Using these parameters, they were able to create a gestural map that suggested evolutionary parallels among varied species.
The lead author of the study, Jennifer Wathan, reported that the movements a horse made bore striking resemblances to those humans make. Horses raise the inner corner of their eyebrows (similar to dogs “puppy dog eyes”) to show fear, sadness or surprise; they can open their eyes wide to indicate alarm; and horses can pull back the corners of their lips (smiling) in greeting or submission.
Wathan believes that these finding can better help humans understand interspecies relationships; EquiFACS allows researchers to make comparisons across species, even those with different-shaped faces. The research is already helping horse trainers and equine veterinarians, and could connect facial expressions to emotional states.
Read more at National Geographic.
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