Eye wrinkle expression characteristics in horses may be linked with emotional states and could be an indicator of horse welfare, researchers have said, although more research is needed.

The eyes have it: The study looked at the relationship between eye-wrinkles and emotional state. Photo credit: Free Images – Blont.

Horses display many different facial expressions, with their eyes being highly expressive due to the wrinkles above the eyeball, which some people use as an indicator of uneasiness or discomfort.

They are often referred to as worry wrinkles or worry lines but to date, no scientific study has investigated the effect of emotion on the expression of eye wrinkles.

Researchers from Switzerland, the UK and US asked whether eye wrinkles are caused by negative emotional states in the horse, or whether they are simply an anthropomorphic interpretation based on the fact humans associate wrinkles at the inner eye brow with worry.

The aim of the study was to investigate whether there was a relationship between eye wrinkles and emotional states in horses. The study took place at the Swiss National Stud Farm in Avenches, Switzerland.

Researchers induced different emotional states in the horses and assessed whether situations presumed to be positive, such as the anticipation of a food reward, would reduce the expression of eye wrinkles, or if situations presumed to be negative, such as competition for food, would increase it.  

Analysis of the number of wrinkles, the extent of wrinkling and how much white of the eye was shown led to the conclusion some characteristics of eye wrinkling were affected by different emotional states.

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