Horses can show more emotion than their long-faced reputation suggests – even more than dogs and chimpanzees, according to a new study.
Researchers at the University of Sussex set out to discover every facial expression horses are capable of, in order to assist animal welfare specialists understand what their equine subjects are trying to communicate.
Fifteen hours of high-definition video footage of horses was recorded, and in all, they found horses are capable of 17 distinct expressions, second only to cats and humans.
"Discrete facial movements were identified and described in terms of the underlying muscle contractions," the researchers said in a statement accompanying their findings, published today in journal PLOS ONE.
"A wide range of facial movements were identified, including many that are also seen in primates and other domestic animals (dogs and cats)."
Chimps only have 13 facial expressions, while orangutans have 15 and dogs, 16.
Cats have an impressive 21 because of their ability to manipulate their whiskers and ears, while humans are capable of 27.
The study's authors say their findings have the "potential to greatly facilitate future studies of horse welfare as well as extending our knowledge of equine communication and cognition".