Horse-lovers (and there are lots of them here in Kentucky!) might be interested in new research from the University of Sussex on horse facial expression. Apparently, according to this new research, “horses use a wide range of facial expressions as social cues—much like humans do.” Horses reportedly have seventeen “discrete movements, many of which are also used by humans, despite obvious differences in facial structure.” Humans, however, have twenty-seven “action units,” or facial movements, as opposed to the horses’ seventeen action units. Reportedly “both horses and humans modify their facial expressions roughly the same way—by using facial muscles to contort the nostrils, lips, and eyes. Horses also express themselves through their ear position, like cats and dogs.” Researchers, however, have yet to tie horse facial movements with different contexts to determine if an expression is positive or negative.
In a creation worldview this new research makes sense. God created many animals with the ability to communicate with one another through facial expression, gestures, or song. Communication can be used to attract a mate, defend territory, warn others, or sometimes simply to be sociable. It should be no surprise then that horses, which are highly social animals, have the ability to communicate with one another. This is part of the amazing and intricate design of creation.
The researchers are observing the horses in the present and drawing conclusions based on what they are directly seeing. So stating that horses make facial expressions for communication is simply observational science. But then the researchers in the PLOS ONE journal say “The potential to make such cross species comparisons can enhance our understanding of the meaning, function, and evolution of communicative behavior” (emphasis added). Clearly, they are trying to align such expressions with those of humans and other animals based on the belief that horses and humans are related because of progression in their evolutionary belief system. This is not observational science.
Now, the researchers didn’t go into any detail on the supposed origins of horse facial expressions, but they did mention that “social living and interacting with multiple individuals, both within and outside the immediate social group, is likely to have selected for enhanced social communication.” This is the realm of historical science, which deals with the past and is not directly testable, repeatable, or observable. Your worldview determines your interpretation. If these researchers believe in evolution, then they will interpret the origin of facial expression through the lens of millions of years of evolution. However, if you start with God’s Word as your starting point, you reach an entirely different conclusion. Humans, horses, and other animals do not use similar facial muscles and communicative expressions because of shared ancestry, but they do share a common Designer and so we would expect to see similarities in living things—and we observe that.
You can learn more about the horse kind when you visit the Creation Museum here in northern Kentucky. We have a zorse and a zonkey in our petting zoo that show visitors that horses, donkeys, and zebras are all part of one created kind, the horse kind.
Thanks for stopping by and thanks for praying,
This item was written with the assistance of AiG’s research team.