Horses communicate with expressive eyes and mobile ears

Do you think horses have expressive eyes? They do, say researchers, and they also have expressive ears.

Photo credit: dbarronness/Flickr

Photo credit: dbarronness/Flickr

Horses are sensitive to the facial expressions and attention of other horses, including the direction of the eyes and ears, according to a study published in the ournal Current Biology on August 4.

The researchers say the findings are a reminder for us humans to look beyond our own limitations and recognize that other species may communicate in ways that we can’t. After all, human ears aren’t mobile.

Jennifer Wathan of the University of Sussex, said:

We found that in horses their ear position was … a crucial visual signal that other horses respond to. In fact, horses need to see the detailed facial features of both eyes and ears before they use another horse’s head direction to guide them.

The researchers said that that horses’ rich social lives and close relationship to humans make them particularly interesting as study subjects. Karen McComb is the study’s senior author. She said:

Horses display some of the same complex and fluid social organization that we have as humans and that we also see in chimpanzees, elephants, and dolphins. The challenges that living in these societies create, such as maintaining valuable social relationships on the basis of unpredictable interactions, are thought to have promoted the evolution of advanced social and communicative skills. There is a general interest in studying species with this social structure.

Read more about the study

Eleanor Imster