Researchers have long known some animals can ‘talk’ to each other by using their eyes or even the tilt of their head. Take us, for example, we can convey tons of information just by using our eyes.

What researchers didn’t know is how do animals with eyes on the sides of their heads communicate? To find out they conducted a study on 24 horses. They found horses can ‘talk’ to each other by using the position of their ears and their eyes.

Here’s how the study went down.

Jennifer Wathan, a Ph.D. student at the University of Sussex, along with her adviser Karen McComb took photographs of horses looking at one of two buckets of feed. The photographs were broken up into three sets. One were the horse’s ears were covered, another were the eyes were covered and a third set with nothing covered.

Wathan and McComb then turned the pictures into life-size photos of the horse’s head. The 24 horses were then led one at a time towards two buckets of feed. When the horse saw the picture with the other horse’s ears and eyes uncovered they picked the bucket of food the horse was looking at 75% of the time. When the horses saw photos with the ears covered, they chose from the two buckets at random. They did perform slightly better when seeing the picture with the eyes covered according to a study published yesterday in Current Biology.

“The horses actually looked at the photographs of the horses with masked eyes less, which indicated there was less information there, and not enough to change behavior,” Wathan said.

These results provide a unique look into how horses communicate and should be helpful to anyone working with the animals.


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