Last Updated on October 23, 2021
Have you ever wondered how clever horses are? Anyone who has spent time with horses will have realized they have great strength but are they equally as intelligent? Today we are going to find out exactly how smart is a horse!
Maybe you think that horses are really smart, and can sometimes do things which make them seem very clever. Or perhaps in your experience horses do silly and crazy things, so they can’t be at all smart? Let’s take a look at horse intelligence and find out!
Are Horses Smart?
Whether an animal is smart or not is not an easy task to figure out. The first difficulty comes with deciding how to assess the intelligence level – do we want to know if they can read, count, or solve puzzles?
Scientists have compared the mental capacity of horses to humans. They have concluded that a horse has the same capabilities as a 12-year-old human child. And when you realize that, in the past, some horses were taught to read, spell and even do math, this makes perfect sense!
Communication is one of the ways in which horses can demonstrate how smart they are. We, humans, communicate easily, by talking to each other. Horses cannot talk, but instead communicate using a huge range of subtle methods, which is highly complex and beyond the level that humans can comprehend.
So, are horses smart? Well, researchers have carried out a series of tests and concluded that horses really are pretty intelligent.
Firstly, they are able to remember things easily. They can memorize complex sequences and patterns. As a horse owner, you will know this is true when your horse always spooks at the same spot where that innocent bird scared him years ago!
Horses can also learn to understand verbal and non-verbal cues. For example, most horses will learn the basic ‘whoa’ instruction, telling them to slow down or stop. Horses can be trained to perform some incredibly intricate tricks and movements with the tiniest of cues from their human trainers.
Scientists have also discovered that horses attempt to communicate with humans too. For example, they set up a test where horses had to find a treat. When the horse was unable to solve the problem, it would signal to its trainer that it needed help.
How Smart Are Horses Of Different Breeds?
So, horses are pretty smart, but are some breeds smarter than others? We need to get one thing straight to start with – a smart horse is not necessarily a good thing!
Smarter horses are more likely to think independently, testing and challenging their trainers. If you are a novice rider, you need a horse that will be kind and understanding, not one which will get bored easily.
When it comes to intelligence, the Quarter Horse will come top of the list for many horse trainers. These clever little horses are able to learn quickly and can solve problems and puzzles. They are also good-natured and well-mannered, without getting too cocky.
Another intelligent breed of horse is the Hanovarian. This beautiful warmblood is often used in high-level competition, as it is capable of understanding complex aids and movements.
Are there any breeds of horses that are not smart? Well, we think all horses are pretty amazing! But if you’re looking for the horse which does the dumbest things, then look no further than the noble Thoroughbred. These horses may be the kings of the racetrack, but no other breed gets in as many sticky situations as the Thoroughbred!
Do Horses Have Big Brains?
Horses have very large skulls, and you might assume that they have an equally large brain in there! However, this isn’t the case, and a horse’s brain is actually quite small.
The brain of a horse is about 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 centimeters) in diameter. This is about the size of a grapefruit, so pretty small for a big animal!
The weight of a horse’s brain is under 2 pounds, which is only about 0.1% of its overall body weight. The human brain weighs about 2% of our body weight, so this is a big difference.
Weirdly, horses’ brains are actually shrinking in size. Since horses have been domesticated, it is believed that their brains have shrunk by nearly 16%.
Is Horse Intelligence Linked To Brain Size?
Scientists are not entirely sure whether the size of an animal’s brain is directly linked to how smart they are. Intelligence can be measured in so many ways that it is difficult to compare one species to another. When it comes to finding out how smart is a horse, this is not an easy task.
And when we look at horses, we can assume that small ponies have a much smaller brain than large draft breeds and warmbloods. But, as any pony owner will tell you, these little equines are definitely not stupid! In fact, many people think that ponies are cleverer than horses.
Studies have shown that horses do not have the same level of skill as humans when it comes to reasoning and problem-solving. However, they can figure out things like how to escape from a field or break into a feed barn!
In other ways, horses are more intelligent than humans. The parts of their brain which control instinctive behaviors are still highly developed. For example, the cerebellum – which controls movement and coordination – is much more developed than in humans.
Horses also have highly developed communication skills, and the area of their brain which processes scent is remarkable too. They can gain a huge amount of information from sniffing at objects, other horses, and even the air!
So, as we’ve learned, horses can be very smart and are capable of working out some complex puzzles. However, their instincts will sometimes overrule their brains, leading them to do crazy and reckless things. Horses have highly developed areas of the brain for vital skills, including analyzing smells and fleeing from predators.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on how smart is a horse! Perhaps your horse appears to be an absolute genius? Or maybe your pony does the craziest things, and you think he can’t be smart at all?! Please add your comments below!
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE