Horses In Tune With Emotions

Published: February 10, 2016 10:08 am EST

Any horseperson that has spent a great deal of time with equine will tell you that horses pick up on changes in human emotion and can tell when people’s moods have changed. Now it’s not just horsepeople that think this, as researchers have found the belief to be true.

As an article by The Guardian explains, Psychologists at Sussex University have reported that they have conducted experiments which prove that horses have the capacity to ‘read’ a human face.

According to a report by the scientists in a journal that goes by the name ‘Biology Letters,’ the experiment included high-quality, large-sized colour prints of people displaying different emotions on their face. One of the prints would show an individual smiling and baring his/her teeth, followed by a print of the same person frowning and baring his/her teeth. The 28 horses in the experiment came from five different stables in Sussex and Surrey.

“These findings raise interesting questions about the nature of emotional expression recognition, including the relative roles of learning and innate skills in its development,” the scientists said in their report.

“What’s really interesting about this research is that it shows horses have the ability to read emotions across the species barrier,” said Amy Smith, who is a Sussex doctoral student that is in a mammal vocal communication and cognition research group at the university. “We have known for a long time that horses are a socially sophisticated species but this is the first time we have seen that they can distinguish between positive and negative human facial expressions.”

Smith also discussed some of the experiment’s findings, stating that “the reaction to angry facial expressions was particularly clear – there was a quicker increase in their heart rate, and the horses moved their heads to look at the angry faces with their left eye.”

(With files from The Guardian)