Horses understand and react to human facial expressions, suggesting that they get our moods and may even empathize with us.
A new study revealing how horses read human emotions puts horses on the very short list of known animals that understand our facial expressions. Only dogs have previously been shown to have the skill.
"It's possible that horses developed this ability during their 6,000-year co-evolution with humans, or indeed that individual horses learn it during their lifetimes," Amy Smith, who co-led the research, told Discovery News.
Photos: Horses, Humans Share Facial Expressions
"It's been shown in dogs that familiarity improves their ability to recognize emotions, which supports the idea that the ability is based, at least in part, on personal experience," added Smith, who is a doctoral student in the Mammal Vocal Communication and Cognition Research Group at the University of Sussex.
Smith, research co-leader Karen McComb and their colleagues recruited 28 horses from five riding stables in Sussex and Surrey, U.K., for the study, which appeared in Biology Letters. Each horse was shown photographs of men with different facial expressions corresponding to particular moods.