Biodiversity 3 min

Horses, experts in facial recognition

PRESS RELEASE - Up until now, people believed horses were able to recognise them mainly through their odour, voice or behaviour. Researchers from Physiology of Reproduction and Behaviour unit (INRAE, IFCE, CNRS, Tours University) recently demonstrated that they are, in fact, capable of recognising people simply by looking at a picture of their face. Moreover, they can remember a person’s face months after having seen it. These results were published in Scientific Report on 14 April 2020.

Published on 14 April 2020

illustration Horses, experts in facial recognition
© Céline Parias - INRAE

Using a touchscreen, eleven horses participated in a face recognition test developed by the researchers. The horses approached the screen voluntarily and launched the test with a touch of their nose. At each trial, two images appeared simultaneously on the screen: the picture of a familiar face and that of a stranger. Whenever they touched the image of the face they knew, the animals would receive a reward. The participants rapidly understood the rules of the game. Researchers then began showing faces of people the horses had met over six months prior to the test, which the animals had no problem recognising. These results demonstrate that horses have advanced face recognition capacities. Would human beings be able to point out animals they saw months ago by simply looking at a picture?

This new knowledge on domestic ungulates indicates sophisticated socio-cognitive skills and it should be taken into account in our everyday interactions with them. Moreover, these results raise new ethical issues in regards to human behaviour towards equines, particularly in terms of breeding, and the relation between breeders and their animals.

In regards to the methodology, the study confirms that horses are capable of using computer-controlled screens and that they can understand the nature of figurative 2-dimensional images—an interesting skill on its own. Tests in which animals are placed in front of a screen and shown real life images or films are currently being carried out; these promising tools will allow researchers to assess several other cognitive skills on the same species in the near future.


Léa Lansade, Violaine Colson, Céline Parias, Milena Trösch, Fabrice Reigner, Ludovic Calandreau. Female horses spontaneously identify a photograph of their keeper, last seen six months previously. Scientific Report 10, 6302 (2020).

PR Horses facial recognition.pdfpdf - 515.22 KB

Press office INRAE

Scientific contact

Léa Lansade Reproductive Physiology and Behavior Unit (INRAE, CNRS, University of Tours and the IFCE)



Learn more


EpiCollect5, a citizen science app for the surveillance of aquatic environments

The citizen science app EpiCollect5 is a free mobile app developed as part of the WaSAf project. Initiated in February 2016, the WaSAf project on protecting surface water sources in Africa aims to set up methods to evaluate and monitor water quality in three African lakes which supply three major cities (Abidjan, Dakar and Kampala), and to prepare the initial measures required to enable the sustainable management of these ecosystems, their preservation and/or their restoration.

01 December 2019


Biodiversity of leavens for high-quality breads

The diversity of baking practices, the biodiversity associated with the bakery sector (terroir, soft wheat varieties, the micro-organisms in leavens) and impacts on the nutritional and sensory quality of bread are all aspects that were studied by the Bakery participatory research project. You can find out about it in the images shown here.

01 December 2019