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Are Horses Intelligent?

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Horses are magnificent creatures and they can develop extraordinary bonds with humans. They can also spook at random, seemingly mundane objects or sounds. Some horses may act so cantankerous and fearful that it makes you question how smart they really are.

gaited brown horse grazing on the field

Are Horses Intelligent?

Horses are extremely intelligent, and their extra vigilance is just one of the many indicators that they are smarter than many of us realize. Horses can recognize their owners, learn quickly, communicate with other horses as well as humans, and often have clear deductive reasoning skills.

While some horses may cause you to question their intelligence at times, it is important to know that they are smart creatures.

Understanding how smart horses are will help you not only get more out of your horse, but it will also help you to create a more meaningful bond with them.

How Smart Are Horses?

Horses are relatively smart animals. They are not only able to learn how to respond to commands, horses are also able to recognize familiar people just by looking at their faces.

Even beyond that, horses can recognize the difference between negative and positive facial expressions in people that they recognize (source).

Horses also have an excellent memory that causes them to become defensive in triggering situations. This would explain why many horse owners tell you to be careful in how you reprimand and treat your horse because it will not forget.

Researchers at the INRA, National Institute for Agricultural Research,  confirm that horses can remember events and lessons learned from many years ago.

How is Intelligence Tested in Horses?

Horse intelligence is measured through scientific studies and experiments, many double-blind, so that the humans within the study do not inadvertently treat the animals differently.

Double-blind means that the humans are not aware of all the study variables.

Scientific does not mean that horses are placed in laboratory-like settings. On the contrary, horses are often studied in their own barns and familiar settings to get more accurate results.

This lessens anxiety and keeps the horse in its natural atmosphere, making the studies and experiments more reliable.

Do Horses Have a Sense of Time?

a horse galloping in a field

Horses cannot tell time like we do, but they do have a sense of time. Most horse owners feed and turn out horses around the same time each day.

Over time, your horses will get used to the routine and will know when it is about time for meals or time to run and play in the paddock (source).

Your horses will realize it is about time for you to visit long before you even walk out the door and head their way.

How Large is a Horse’s Brain?

An average-sized adult horse’s brain weighs around 1.34 pounds or 606 grams (source). By comparison, the adult human brain is significantly larger than that of a horse, around 3.3 pounds or 1496 grams (source).

It’s hard to believe that a horse’s brain is so much smaller than our own.

A horse’s brain is often said to be around the size of a large grapefruit. If you think that seems small for their size, you’re right.

A horse’s brain is rather small when compared to the size of its body, which often weighs more than 1,000 pounds (source).

Can Horses Communicate with Each Other?

Horses communicate with other horses all the time. They will whinny, kick, bite, run at, stomp their feet, or snort to talk to and alert other horses in their herd.

Communication is key in a herd of horses. It is part of how they work to establish a herd hierarchy, especially when new horses are added to the mix.

Horses are also prey animals, which means they are almost always on the watch for predators. Communication is key to help keep horse herds safe and alert horses will warn the rest of the herd of nearby predators.

They also communicate to warn the rest of the herd of coming storms, new horses, and even that their owner is trying to catch them (source).

Do Horses Communicate with Humans?

Horses can communicate with their owners and other humans, but we may not always recognize it.

A study at Kobe University showed that horses do try to communicate with humans visually and even physically, nudging humans to direct their attention to something.

The study proved that horses use many of the same communication methods they use with each other to communicate with us (source).

Horses can whinny, kick, and pin their ears back to communicate with you as well as even biting or nudging us to convey a message.

I have even had a horse grab a manure rake with its mouth and throw it at me to get my attention. He wanted his feed faster than I was bringing it and his message was received. 

Are Horses More Intelligent Than Dogs?

It is difficult to truly measure the intelligence of both animals on an equal playing field. I would venture to say that horses are at least as intelligent as dogs, if not more so.

A horse’s brain is larger than that of a dog, but that does not stop the critics from talking.

They argue that dogs can clearly learn more tricks and behave better than horses and therefore must be smarter.

It is important to remember that if a horse lived in your house and spent most of their day with you, it they would probably learn more and behave better as well.

Do Horses Know Who Their Owners Are?

Horses can recognize their owners. Studies have shown that horses can distinguish their owners from other humans.

Horses use their various senses to help them recognize their owners including visual cues, smells, and the sound of their voice (source).

This means that your horse does know who you are, even if it might pretend like it doesn’t!

Are Horses Smarter Than Humans?

Young woman with her arabian horse standing in the field

Horses are not considered to be smarter than humans. Horses can do a lot and they can hear far better than we can, but horses cannot do many things that we do.

Their brains are smaller than ours and we can do far more complex things than horses will ever be able to do. It is safe to say, however, that some horses can outsmart some humans on occasion.

5 Facts About Horse Intelligence

  1. Horses are quick learners and get used to daily routines, so much so, they know when feeding time comes around (source).
  2. Horses can recognize emotions of familiar humans (source).
  3. Horses have superb memories (source).
  4. Horses connect memories to emotions, eliciting positive or negative reactions years later (source).
  5. Horses often do try to communicate with their owners (source).

Final Thoughts

Horses are intelligent animals, and they understand a lot more than many people give them credit for. Horses can recognize their owners, they can sense changes in human emotions, they have amazing memories, and they can communicate not only among themselves, but with us as well!

Just because a horse acts like it cannot hear you, does not mean it does not understand you. Your horse may be so smart that it knows if it ignores you or acts up for long enough, eventually you will leave it alone!