Straight from the horse’s mouth: Researchers discover that horses have different facial expressions when they are disappointed or frustrated after keeping food from them
- Researchers at Lincoln University gave 30 horses a food reward task
- They found that horses have different expressions for disappointment and frustration
According to a study, horses have different facial expressions for disappointment and frustration.
Researchers at Lincoln University got 30 horses to perform a food reward task, which left them disappointed or frustrated.
When disappointed, the horses tended to blink a lot, lift their nostrils, stick out their tongues, and make chewing movements.
When they were frustrated, they showed more whites and turned their ears back.
Dr. Claire Ricci-Bonot, lead author of the study, said horses are “generally companion animals that live within a complex social system.”
According to a study, horses have different facial expressions for disappointment and frustration
She added: ‘They are able to communicate with other horses through subtle visual cues such as the position of the ears.
‘These signals come to play an important role within a group, especially during social interactions.’
The team hopes their research will enable riders to better care for their animals’ mental health by understanding their emotions.
Dr. Ricchi-Bonot added: ‘It’s easier to judge a horse’s physical health. However, it is more difficult to do it for mental health.
‘Better recognition and understanding of horses’ emotions through their facial expressions could lead to an improvement in the management of these animals – that is, to try to eliminate situations that can trigger negative emotions in horses.
“From the riders’ point of view, being able to interpret the horses’ facial expressions would make it possible to avoid situations that could compromise the rider’s safety, such as recognizing that the horse is afraid of something.”
For the study, 30 male – intact and castrated – and female horses were trained by the researchers to perform a task where they expected a food reward.
A manger was attached to the outside of their stable, closed with a transparent perspex panel.
Dr. Claire Ricci-Bonot, lead author of the study, said horses are “generally companion animals that live within a complex social system”
A researcher poured food into the manger while the horse watched, and after ten seconds the clear panel was pulled back to allow the horse to access the food.
This was repeated so that after waiting ten seconds the horse learned to expect the food.
Then the tests began. In some of them, the clear panel stayed in place after the ten seconds, allowing the horse to see the feed but not reach it, leading to frustration.
In the other trials, the transparent panel was removed, but an opaque panel was left, making it appear as if there was no food at all, leading to disappointment.
The horses were videotaped throughout so the researchers could analyze their facial expressions and behaviors.
The findings were published in the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science.