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Recent studies reveal that our equine friends use 17 distinct facial movements to communicate: 10 less than humans, but one more than dogs and four more than chimpanzees.
Researchers at the University of Sussex discovered this by dissecting a horse’s head and identifying the musculature underlying its facial features. They then viewed behavioural recordings, 15 hours of video footage of horses and mares of different breeds between four weeks and 27 years of age. Finally, using a tool called EquiFACS https://animalfacs.com/equifacs , they catalogued the observed eye, lip, nose and jaw movements. The result is a gestural map that suggests evolutionary parallels between different species.
According to Jennifer Wathan, lead author of the study, there are striking similarities between the movements of horses and humans. For example, raising eyebrows to show fear, surprise or sadness; raising the corners of the mouth (smiling) to greet or express submission; opening the eyes wide to indicate alarm.
According to Wathan, these results could help us better understand the relationships between species. EquiFACS and similar systems “create a common language to generate objective interspecies comparisons, even when their facial morphologies are not related. The study, which helps veterinarians and trainers, could also associate facial expressions with emotional states. “We know little about the emotional lives of animals,” she says. This tool could help us recognize that.