Researchers observed equine body language and facial expressions in a grooming study, comparing these visible responses to what’s under the surface – blood cortisol, oxytocin levels and heart rate.
As a coach, I encourage riders to read their horses –to check in every couple of seconds with how their signals are reflected in their horse’s ears, eyes, muzzles and tail. I’ve learned so much by watching horses!
The study (see below) got me thinking – in the digital age, are we in danger of losing our ability to read one another? When I send a text or reply to a post, I don’t see the recipient’s face. An emoji can’t hug, or show up with flowers. Empathy is identifying with someone’s pain, fear or joy. It takes time. It can be messy.
Back to the equine researchers…
“Identifying subtle signs of discomfort from the outset is crucial because then you can immediately change the way you’re brushing… Being able to read our horses’ facial expressions (and in this case in particular, their lips) helps us improve communication considerably.” said Dr. Léa Lansade
“Riders usually recognize the positive facial expressions when those expressions are obvious—like protruding lips that move a little bit, and half-closed eyes, but sometimes, these expressions can be much more subtle. If you look closely, you can see just the upper lip just slightly stretching forward. That’s something that few riders actually notice.”