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How to Read Your Horses Facial Expressions & Body Language

Ever wondered what your horse is really thinking? In our latest guest post Yolanda Noble, from Olson Timber Buildings, talks to us about how to read your horses facial expressions and body language to make life a little easier down at the yard!  

reading horse facial expressions

Humans have had a close association with horses for hundreds and thousands of years. Over the long period of time, attempts have been made by many to understand the nature of horses by studying their behavior in different circumstances.


However, only in the recent times it has been discovered that horses also use a wide range of facial expressions and body language to communicate with others. Horses are predominantly visual creatures and therefore it is not surprising that they make use of a wide range of facial expressions to communicate with other horses and humans as well.


Revelations found in new horse behavior studies

The innate ability to use different types of complex facial expressions for conveying emotions is not really unique to humans. They are also used by chimpanzees, cats and dogs for expressing a wide range of emotions.


In the recent times, many scientists have discovered that horses also make use of a lot of facial expressions to express their feelings. In a newly conducted study, professional psychologists from University of Sussex in UK have found that the horses employ numerous muscular movements for creating dynamic facial expressions which are sometimes almost identical to the ones made by humans. This has led to a renewed interest in studying horse facial expressions more closely.


Researchers have compiled an extensive directory of different types of horse facial movements that offer a fine glimpse into the diverse and complex nature of socio-emotional aspects of the horses’ lives. A doctoral researcher working with University of Sussex has reportedly told that horses are typically animals with a varied form of emotional responses.


However, the nature and depth of their feelings along with the ways they use their facial expressions to express them is not yet known. Further studies are now being conducted to analyze the facial cues of horses and the ways in which such enhanced knowledge of horse behavior and moods can be used to interact with them.

read horses body language

Distinct elements of horse facial expressions

It has been noted that in a wide range of social situations, the horses move muscles present in their faces to express their emotions. These movements can either be subtle or distinctly noticeable on an immediate basis. In most cases, the muscles present around lips, eyes and nostrils are moved to create different types of expressions that can be used for communicating information to the other horses nearby.


While humans make use of almost 27 different types of facial expressions to express their thoughts and emotions, researchers have identified about 17 different horse facial expressions that are used for communicating information. These are often used alongside horse body language and movements to fully convey a message.


Some of the common facial expressions used by horses include “tongue show,” “eye white increase,” “ears forward” and “lip presser”. Typically, horses combine these different movements to express their inner thoughts.


Importance of studying horse facial expressions

The facial signs and expressions that are used by horses are highly dynamic and many of them are still not properly understood. Even professionals who spend a lot of time with the horses and take care of them are not fully sure about the expressions that they see from time to time. Investigating the nature of these facial expressions of horses can prove to be quite invaluable to veterinary doctors who deal with horses as well as horse training experts who help to use them in movies and performance arts.


Notable facial expressions used by horses and their meanings

Here are some of the most common horse facial expressions and what they mean:


Inner brow raiser

In many instances, horses raise their inner eyebrows when they are experiencing any undesirable emotional circumstances that might lead to an expression of fear or sadness. Human beings and dogs are also known to make use of similar facial expressions when they are feeling sadness, surprise and fear.


Lip corner puller

The lip corner puller, also referred to as “snapping,” is basically a subtle movement that is usually thought be a sign of submission in the horses. With humans, a key aspect of the smile is pulling the corner portions of the lips. Such an expression is also widely noted in cats, dogs and primates.


Upper lip raiser

The upper lip raiser can serve as a mien indicating fear in the horses. It is frequently noticed with widening of eyes which helps to increasing perceptibility of white portions of the eyes. It has been seen that cows also make use of similar facial expressions to deal with tense situations.


The revelation of the meaning of horse’ facial expressions can really be a great advancement of animal studies and it certainly going to open up new doors for anyone who is looking to work with horses and understand what makes a horse happy or otherwise. It is due to this reason that animal scientists are now trying to uncover more about horse’s facial expressions and body language and what they indicate about their inner nature.