Ponies response to human facial expressions

Published: 7 July 2022| Version 1 | DOI: 10.17632/p2ywt67xmr.1
Katrina Merkies


This study investigated how ponies (n=20) distinguish facial expressions presented by live human actors. Trained actors using the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) displayed four facial expressions (anger, sadness, joy and neutral) individually to twenty ponies. Heart rate and behaviors of the ponies such as first eye look (gaze), eye look duration (right and left side bias) and latency to approach were observed. A generalized linear mixed model (GLIMMIX) using Sidak’s multiple comparisons of least squared means determined that when exposed to anger expressions ponies looked more often with their left eye first and when exposed to joy, looked more often with their right eye first (p = 0.011). Ponies spent more time looking at angry expressions (p = 0.0003) in comparison to other expressions. There was no variation in heart rate across expressions (p > 0.89). Regardless of human facial expression, ponies looked longer (p = 0.0035), took longer to approach (p = 0.0297) and displayed more oral behaviours (p < 0.0001) with one actor than the other. Ponies with more experience as a lesson mount had lower heart rates (p < 0.0001) carried their head lower (p < 0.0001), kept their left ear on the actor (p < 0.03) and exhibited more oral behaviours (p < 0.0001) than ponies with less experience. This study demonstrates that ponies are able to distinguish facial expressions presented by a live human.



University of Guelph Ontario Agricultural College


Animal Behavior, Equus, Emotion Expression