According to new research published by the University of Sussex, horses have a “functionally relevant understanding” of angry and negative human facial expressions.
These findings come from a study of 28 horses and their responses to being shown photographs of human faces with various emotional expressions. When the horses were shown photos of humans with angry expressions, they displayed behaviors that clearly understood the emotions.
“The reaction to the 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,” Amy Smith, a co-author of the study, explained. This is the first time researchers have discovered a correlation between physical human emotion and an equine’s responsive heart rate.
So what exactly does this mean? It seems to suggest that horses may have developed the skills to read human emotion over time. “Horses may have adapted an ancestral ability for reading emotional cues in other horses to respond appropriately to human facial expressions during their co-evolution,” the study states.
This latest discovery is further support of the emotional connection that many humans feel with their horses. Although there is still much more to be discovered about horses ability to understand the emotions and expressions of their owners, it’s a thought-provoking finding that shows we may be closer connected to them than previously believed.