Pet Keen is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

Home > Horses > Do Horses Know Their Own Names? Facts & FAQ

Do Horses Know Their Own Names? Facts & FAQ

American Quarter Horse herd in Montana

Horses are exceptionally intelligent creatures with advanced cognition.1 In addition, they’re highly social animals that can form lasting bonds with their humans. But are they able to recognize their own names when called?

Like many other animals, horses can learn to respond to the verbal cues their trainer or owner are giving them, but no scientific studies confirm that they can recognize their name.

Keep reading to learn more.divider-horse

Do Horses Know Their Name?

While a horse might hear you call its name and come galloping toward you, it may not actually be responding to the actual word, but instead just your voice. They can understand the sounds and tones you’re making and any visual clues you might be pairing with their names but they’re not likely to respond to your calls because they understand that you’re using their name.

That’s not to say that horses are unintelligent, though. Its name is essentially just a trigger and a cue. When it hears you call its name, it knows that you’re asking for its attention.

Like other animals, horses can learn to react to verbal cues we provide; “come here,” “stay still,” or “lift your foot,” for example. So, it may just be that your horse responds to its name when you call it because it’s intelligent enough to understand that you’re trying to tell it something.

clydesdale horse eating grass
Image By: Terri Sharp, Pixabay

Why Can’t Horses Learn Their Names?

It’s not that horses can’t learn their names, but it all comes down to repetition and exposure. We may not talk to our horses as often as our pets who live in our homes with us. Humans are exposed to their indoor pets much more than the ones that live outside in a barn, so horses won’t receive as many repeats of the name reinforcements as a dog or cat.

Even if a horse does learn to recognize its name, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they see it as an identity label. For example, dogs may learn to recognize their names because it’s part of the “pack” experience. But dogs have very different social bonds with their humans than horses, as their human family members can really become part of their social group.

Can Horses Recognize Their Owners?

A study from 2012 found that horses can recognize and distinguish humans via auditory and visual cues. Researchers believe that their ability to do so is similar to how humans can match people’s faces with their voices.

The study required two people—one familiar to the horse and one a stranger—to stand on either side of the horse. Researchers then used a speaker to play a recording of either the familiar individual’s or the stranger’s voice. Their findings suggest that the horse would look to the familiar person when it heard their voice on the recording, showing that horses can recognize voices and match them to the person they know.

The horse peeking out of the stall
Image By: Konstantin Tronin, Shutterstock



Horses are intelligent creatures, but they aren’t capable of understanding the meaning behind the name you’ve given them. However, they can respond when they hear you calling a familiar phrase because they know your voice.

Though your horse may never understand its name, that doesn’t mean you can’t train it to respond when it’s called. Check out our blog on how to teach your horse to come when called.

See also:

Featured Image Credit: Christy berry, Shutterstock

Our vets

Want to talk to a vet online?

Whether you have concerns about your dog, cat, or other pet, trained vets have the answers!

Our vets