What do horses' eye wrinkles tell us?

Written by Saturday, 29 August 2015 18:07

Some horse owners like myself, believe that wrinkles around a horse's eyes can indicate physical or mental discomfort. I mean, I know if I've been suffering with backache for days or something has been really worrying me, when I look in the mirror I can see tension in my face, especially around my eyes and forehead. But when I link wrinkles around a horse's eyes with stress or pain, am I guilty of anthropomorphising?

Well, researchers from Switzerland, UK and USA furrowed their brows over this question too. They induced four different emotional states common to domesticated horses: anticipation of food reward, petting, food competition and a waved plastic bag. They then analysed photographs taken of both eyes for the number of and extent of the wrinkles. They also noted how much white of the eye was shown.

They concluded, "….that emotional states may affect characteristics of eye wrinkle expression which might therefore be a promising indicator of horse welfare but further research is needed to validate the relevant outcome variables."

This research only looked at eye wrinkles as an indicator of the horse's emotional state rather than pain so I'd be really interested to find out if you've had any experiences of a horse with eye wrinkles and whether you found they had anything to do with either physical or mental stress.

And while we're talking wrinkles, if anyone can recommend a good eye cream then let me know!

Julie Moore

For further info on When I look into your eyes…. What eye wrinkles in horses tell us about their emotional state go to: http://www.equitationscience.com/documents/Conferences/2015/ISES_Conference_Proceedings_2015.pdf


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