Bring your best face to the barn: Horses take note!

Zelda studying me

It comes as no surprise to most of us that horses are extremely intuitive and react strongly to our emotions. But, did you know that horses both remember and understand your expression? The ability to read expressions across the species barrier is something previously only documented in dogs, but horses not only can read our faces, they can recognize emotions on photographs of people.

In a series of experiments, researchers at the universities of Sussex and Portsmouth showed domestic horses photographs of humans with either a happy or angry expression on their faces. Later, the horses were introduced to the people they saw in the photographs, this time with neutral expressions.

Researchers watched the eye movements of horses as they met the photograph subjects in real life. The horses perceived those who had been photographed with an angry face as more threatening. — Horses Read, Remember Human Faces

The study also revealed that horses (like dogs) focus on threatening objects with their left eye (as the right hemisphere of the brain assesses risk). So, I’m relieved that Zelda is assessing my mood with both eyes. I guess she thinks of me more as a Pez dispenser than a threat.

I’ve always known that my horses were attuned to my moods but not that they were so good at reading my expressions. Or that they could remember that I was in foul mood yesterday.

So, bring your best face to the barn — your horse may remember your moods longer than you do!

2 thoughts on “Bring your best face to the barn: Horses take note!

  1. My horse is *much* spookier in his left eye than his right eye. He also likes to keep me in his right eye when I am leading him. I’ve always wondered what that means!

  2. Yes, horses do remember faces and understand our expressions. With Raventh and my Arab, Jordan, all I needed to do to get them to behave, or ‘stop doing that’! was to give them the stink eye.
    There’s a woman who’s name will came to me in a moment-oh, it was Lyn or maybe Lynn? …last name was Kamer and she wrote a book about adopting mustangs. Well, she was seriously injured in a fire, and …ugh, I think I’ve got this right…lost parts of her face. Once she was well enough to go the the barn, her horses absolutely freaked. They didn’t recognize her, in fact, they may have been frightened by her lack of facial features or expressions. Only when she went back into the house and put on a face (meaning, put on makeup) did the horses recognize her and calm down.

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