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How Intelligent Are Horses? Here is What Science Says

Oliver Jones

Sometimes, before even getting on your horse’s back, you may feel that your ride will not meet your expectations. But have you ever wondered why?

Chances are, you are communicating with your horse without even noticing the message you are sending to your horse, whether you are doing it by changes in your body language or even by displaying a different facial expression.

Understanding how intelligent your horse is can help you know him more effectively, making your training sessions and rides more efficient. In addition, it can make your time with the horse more fun and ultimately safer.

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How Intelligent are Horses Compared to Other Creatures?

Black horse eating grass
Image Credit: Antranias, Pixabay

Compared to humans, several scientists have said that horses have the intelligence of a 3-year-old kid. In addition, most horses can recognize themselves in a mirror, learn complex commands or tricks, and understand human emotion.

It is not easy to answer the question of whether some horses are more intelligent than other creatures. The truth is that direct comparison of intelligence across species can’t work since the standards of testing what is regarded smart are not the same from one creature to another.

For example, if you measure intelligence by climbing a tree, the monkey will score very high, whereas the elephant will score extremely low. So, trying to measure intelligence across species does not make much sense. Therefore, the is no IQ score for animals as you can find for humans.

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Are Horses Smarter Than Dogs?

Horse Galloping
Image Credit: RebeccasPictures, Pixabay

Horses’ intelligence is usually compared to cats and dogs. Cats and dogs are predators and will have a highly different set of skills compared to horses.

Horses possess the ability to learn quickly, but dogs are better problem solvers. In addition, most scientists believe that pups have been bred to be more intelligent to help humans, more so than horses. One example is a sheepdog.

Are Some Horses Smarter Than Others?

Studies tend to show that some breeds of horses are intelligent than others. However, expert trainers believe you must measure the intelligence of each horse differently. Arabian and Thoroughbreds are two breeds that seem to be on top of the list in terms of intelligence.

Some horses are also famous for their intelligence. For instance, a retired racehorse Lukas became one of the best liberty performers in the United States and attracted global acclaim for his intelligence. The horse can identify numbers, letters, colors, and shapes.

In addition, Lukas understood complex concepts, including spatial relationships, object permanence, absentness, and proportion.

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Horses and Complex Communication

horses with their owner
Image Credit: Lorri Lang, Pixabay

Studies have shown that horses are incredibly social creatures with multiple abilities such as communicating with humans, recognizing human emotions, and learning through commands. However, you need to consider the tone in which you give the orders and make sure the commands remain consistent with the word.

In addition, they can learn their daily schedule, including feeding time. Horses can also work things out by themselves, such as freeing themselves from a dangerous situation or opening stable doors.

Keep in mind that horses are quick learners, particularly with the right and consistent training.

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Studies on Cognitive Skills in Horse

Here are a few exciting and applicable studies on horse observation, communication, and understanding skills.

1. Horses Can Read Human Body Language

woman-feeding-fruit-to-two-horses_Groomee_shutterstock
Credit: Groomee, Shutterstock

A study indicated that horses could read human body language and differentiate whether a person is showing submissive or dominant body posture, even if they are not familiar with that individual.

Horses can communicate with body language and are not limited to their species. They use the same way to communicate with humans. Horses will act upon what they observe from your body language.

That is something to keep in mind for trainers and anyone handling a horse. You need to be more conscious of the signals you send to your horse to develop a positive relationship with them when you interact with them.


2. Horses Have a Sense of Time

Horses can’t tell time as humans do, but they do have a sense of time. Most horse owners feed and take out horses around the same time every day.

Eventually, your horse will get used to the schedule and know when it is about time to eat or run and play in the field. Your horse will know it is about time for you to visit long before you even leave your house and head their way


3. Horses Communicate with Each Other

Halter & Lead Rope on horses
Image Credit: editor321, Pixabay

Horses communicate with each other all the time. They will bray, bite, kick at, trample their feet, or grunt to talk to and alert other horses in their herd.

Communication is essential in a herd of horses. Horses communicate to create a herd hierarchy, particularly when a new horse is added to the pack.

In addition, horses are prey creatures, which means they are most often on the watch for predators. Communication is vital to help keep horse flocks safe, and alert horses will warn the rest of the pack of close predators. Furthermore, they communicate to warn the rest of the herd of approaching storms, new horses, and even when their owner is trying to catch them.


4. Horses Will Ask for Help When Facing an Unsolvable Issue

A study indicated that when a horse faces an unsolvable problem, it will use tactical or visual signals to catch human attention and ask for help.

As a horse owner or a rider, you must remember to be more conscious of the signals you send to your horse and be aware of the signs the horse is sending to you.

Whether you wish to provide the best care possible to your horse or to improve your training or riding, you most definitely need to listen to what your horse has to tell you.

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Summary

Horses are intelligent creatures, and they understand a lot more than most people give them credit for. They can recognize their owners, have incredible memories, can sense changes in human emotions, and can communicate among themselves and with humans as well.

Their incredible social skills towards humans explain why humans and horses have a collaborative relationship today. So, understanding communication traits in your horse can help you develop a stronger bond between you and your horse and eventually make you a better caregiver, trainer, or rider.


Featured Image Credit: NeelShakilov, Pixabay

Oliver Jones

Oliver (Ollie) Jones - A zoologist and freelance writer living in South Australia with his partner Alex, their dog Pepper, and their cat Steve (who declined to be pictured). Ollie, originally from the USA, holds his master's degree in wildlife biology and moved to Australia to pursue his career and passion but has found a new love for working online and writing about animals of all types.