Are Horses Really Smart

Danielle Fletcher
• Monday, 23 November, 2020
• 15 min read

Horse lovers have long believed that their trusty steeds are the smartest animals in the world, but skeptics would be doubtful. While we most often compare them to dogs when asking ‘are horses intelligent?’ This is, in fact, not a fair comparison.

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So those stories of horses being over cuddly when their owners are upset or refusing to come over to you when you’re grumpy aren’t just coincidence, after all. All of these show that horses learn via conditioning, and that through trial and error they can figure out the correct response to a question or situation.

Intrigued, I began keeping track of other recent research into equine intelligence, and what I learned about how smart horses may be been astonishing. Whereas just 15 years ago scientists were still questioning whether horses (and other mammals) even experience emotions, research now seems to indicate equines may in fact have some same cognitive abilities as we do, only at a different level.

Here, I’m going to share the latest research into equine cognition, including details of that compelling blanket-on/-off study. René Descartes, the 17th-century French philosopher, believed animals were mindless machines that could neither reason nor feel pain.

The work of the Russian Ivan Pavlov in the 19th century and American B. F. Skinner in the early 20th portrayed animals as merely reacting reflexively to their environment, or behaving only in response to positive or negative reinforcement. In fact, until only fairly recently, “anyone who ascribed an underlying emotion to an animal’s behavior was simply being anthropomorphic, projecting human feelings onto what were merely ‘dumb animals,’” observes Dr. Nicholas H. Rodman, a veterinary behaviorist writing in Veterinary Practice News online.

“The extreme behaviorist’s view that animals’ behavior is to be observed and measured but not interpreted prevailed through much of the last century.” In September 2003, Horsehide published a feature titled, “Do Horses Have Emotions?” Experts quoted in the piece argued the proposition both ways, with one even suggesting a mare’s distress at having her foal taken away could be just a stimulus response rather than proof of an emotional bond.

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Current research seems to point in that direction, and toward a surprising range of cognitive abilities in general. • Touch-screen use: “A horse’s-eye view: size and shape discrimination compared with other mammals,” November 2015, Biology Letters.

In this 2016 study, Norwegian researchers trained 22 horses representing various breeds to understand symbols painted on white wooden boards. Then, under varying weather conditions, the horses were asked to select which action they wanted…and here’s where it got fascinating.

Use of the computer-monitor system will enable further looks into the mind of the horse that are free from potential human “interference,” offering results with the greatest possible validity. A 2016 study at the University of Sussex in England showed that horses can distinguish between smiling and frowning human faces.

Twenty-eight horses were shown large photographs of a man’s face expressing either a positive or negative emotion. The researchers also noted that horses themselves have many facial expressions that are similar to those of humans, which may’ve aided them in deciphering the emotions.

• “Can Horses Read Our Minds?,” with science writer Stephen Budiansky at The Thinking Rider blog. Evelyn Hang, MS, PhD, of the Equine Research Foundation in Autos, California (equine research.org), sums it up well.

smart horse rae callie king courtesy
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Research to date has just grazed this subject and it will take many more studies to figure out what occurs within the thought processes of our equine partners,” she says. Before Helen Keller’s teacher found the key to unlocking two-way communication, the deaf and blind girl seemed barely more than a wild animal.

Many people have different opinions if a horse is smart or not. I did some research on this topic and found lots of information to share with you.

Their ability to be trained and to learn new skills has made them a much loved companion to their owners and trainers. Horses have fantastic memories and a great sense of smell.

These characteristics of the horse has helped them become a much loved and appreciated member of our modern world. The horse is King and here are so many ways he benefits us as humans.

Their training programs many times was pure brute force. They devised ways that they could have the upper hand to force the horse to do what they wanted, like throwing them to the ground and showing the horse that man was the Boss.

smart very play horses horse performance
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The first saddling and riding lessons were harsh and expected to be accomplished by the cowboy outlasting the horse. The horse was a tool at the cowboys command, he was forced to do his will.

Nowadays the way of breaking and training a horse is a lot gentler method. One that brings joy and pleasure to millions of horse owners throughout the world.

Some people say that a horse could be compared to the smartness of about a 10 or 12-year-old human. There was an American horse I have heard of by the name of “Jim Key” who could actually perform some type of math & spelling.

There have been lots of studies done by scientists to discover how horses learn and how their brains work. Dogs and cats, for example, are predators and the size of their brain is smaller.

A horse being a prey animal, which means they often had to flee for their life; behaves differently. In fact a horse has been so well-developed that within an hour of birth a foal has the ability to run in case there is a need.

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Owners who become frustrated because of the horses freaking out would call them dumb animals. Also, that works out well if the rider finds himself lost and does not know which direction to go.

That has come in very handy in my life because I have gotten turned around and did not know which way to go more than once when I was out on the trail. Horse owners have always wanted to give their animals human characteristics.

It’s true horses can learn the meaning of a lot of words. For the horses pulling wagons gee and haw told them whether to turn right or left.

Not much more than those few other often repeated words is about as much as we can expect horses to comprehend. There are many great stories told around the campfire of horses almost being able to read people’s minds.

I have heard friends brag that their horse is the smartest because it can unlock the stable door or untie a knot or get into the hay barn. It’s not like the horse really knew what he was doing, but being the mischievous and curious animal he is, his efforts to play around and fiddle with the lock rewarded him with the ability to get freedom.

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How easy he is to learn commands and how to perform them, through a process of positive and negative reinforcement with lots of repetition. It is their humble opinion that the Donkeys are more intelligent than horses.

When a new rider buys or leases a horse that has more training and experience than he has, it could prove to be somewhat of a problem. Now, some cognitive scientists are asking about another domesticated animal companion that's been comparatively neglected: horses.

Japanese scientists Mamie Ringer and Shiny Nakamoto of Kobe University have published online in the journal Animal Cognition the results of the first research to investigate how horses respond to the state of knowledge or ignorance of their human companions. Ringer and Nakamoto designed research to test eight thoroughbred horses in a paddock at Kobe University's equestrian club.

The horses watched as a research assistant put a carrot in a food bucket. In one experimental condition, the human caretaker witnessed the food going into the bucket (knowledge state).

In a second condition, the caretaker did not watch as the carrot was placed into the bucket (uninformed state). The horses used more visual and tactile signals with the uninformed than the informed caretaker.

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Instead, the dogs alternated their gaze between the uninformed human experimenter and the hidden food's location. It could be that it's, perhaps, in keeping with their different evolutionary history as herding, hunting, service and rescue animals.

If a predator, for example, appears on the horizon, one horse immediately alerts the others through a wide variety of signals. This is interesting and also expected: Animals' behavioral tendencies and personalities vary.

Ringer couldn't determine if the face-hitting was accidental or purposeful on the horses part, and so didn't include it in her analyses. Direct comparison of intelligence across species doesn't work well, because there is no single standard of what smart means across differently evolved animals.

King is an anthropology professor emerita at the College of William and Mary. She often writes about the cognition, emotion and welfare of animals, and about biological anthropology, human evolution and gender issues.

The Smartest Animals: 15 Species That Are Truly Genius | Reader's Digest Skip to main content ANMP Shah/Getty Images We humans take a lot of pride in our brains and our supposed “dominance” over the other creatures of the earth. But the animal kingdom is full of brainy creatures who would surely blow even the smartest humans away with their intelligence and skills if we gave them the chance.

funny social smart horses playful horse spirit
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Case in point: Think things like dancing, cheating, and even sleight-of-hand are human inventions, exclusive to Homo sapiens ? © Konstantin Zyuganov/stock If you’re planning a whimsical animal burglary, you’ll definitely want a raccoon anchoring your squad.

Various studies conducted from the ’60s to the ’90s found that raccoons boast an impeccable memory, able to recall solutions to tasks for up to three years. Ocskaymark/stock Not only can crows recognize faces to differentiate between predatory and benign species, they also understand basic physics (like this lab crow who mastered water displacement to maneuver a treat within reach), have been known to change entire migration patterns to avoid farms where crows have been killed in the past, and may even memorize city garbage routes, so they can snag the inevitable food droppings on trash day.

Cool, calculating, and known to harbor a grudge, crows shouldn’t be compared to gangsters, per se, but we do feel obligated to remind you that a group of them is called a murder. Like dogs, pigs have been shown to understand emotions, demonstrate empathy, solve mazes, learn simple symbolic languages and, most adorably, make best friends.

Otto, a German aquarium octopus, was even known to throw rocks at the glass and spray water at overhead lamps to short-circuit the annoyingly bright lights (on more than one occasion). Add to their rap sheet the innovation of assembling shelters from coconut shells, and there’s no denying cephalopods will one day be our overlords.

Now, findings from the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi suggest dolphins may also be the second-sneakiest animals on Earth. By hiding scraps of litter under a rock in her tank, Kelly discretely tore single sheets of discarded paper into multiple pieces, then turned them in one at a time to maximize her fishy reward.

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Don’t miss the 10 times animals helped scientists solve big mysteries ! Westend61/Getty Images Honeybees have evolved what we call “swarm intelligence,” with up to 50,000 workers in a single colony coming together to make democratic decisions.

Pigeons, despite their comically “clumsy” walking style and seemingly vacant stares, are not as “bird-brained” as you might think! They were able to differentiate between the images in an identification game that, according to Psychology Today, would give most humans trouble.

“The finding is based on a language development test, revealing average dogs can learn 165 words (similar to a two-year-old child), including signals and gestures, and dogs in the top 20 percent in intelligence can learn 250 words,” says the Live Science article. “While dogs ranked with the two-year-olds in language, they would trump a three- or four-year-old in basic arithmetic, found.

In terms of social smarts, our drooling fur balls fare even better.” And there are lots of things dogs can smell that humans can’t, so that’s gotta count for something too! “They can learn words, play with objects, and even seem to mourn the deaths of their friends,” says National Geographic.

“Genes determine about half of the variability in chimp intelligence and environmental factors the other half, according to climatologist William Hopkins, of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta, Georgia, and colleagues.” Chimps also have their own way of making life a little easier. In fact, studies have shown some of these primates to fashion spears to hunt smaller prey and long branches to dig for termites,” according to Caleb Back, health and wellness expert for Maple Holistic.

horse smartest smart very mojly tango animals most
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Kristin Kelly Each was hiking in the woods with her dogs when a sudden movement caught her eye. Like the many Coloradans who did not grow up on a farm, Kelly Each had stumbled upon the mysterious being called a donkey or, in Spanish, burro.

But that’s an unfair label, say donkey owners who praise their pets as intelligent, loyal and affectionate companions. In practical terms, donkeys keep weeds to a minimum and protect small livestock from predators with a precise kick.

They will hike “off leash” and carry children on their backs; you can race them and teach them to pull carts through obstacle courses. Smarter and more personable than a horse and just below the threshold of canine character, donkeys are emotional animals who bond for life, and if they earn your trust will do just about anything you ask of them, owners say.

After centuries of overuse, mistreatment and misunderstanding, these beleaguered beasts are finding the respect they deserve, says Kathy Dean, founder of Long hopes Donkey Shelter in Bennett. After her encounter, Kelly Each discovered the animal she met was Jackson, a 29-year-old gelding owned by Dave and Sue Dana, her neighbors in the Sugar loaf area west of Boulder.

Dave often turns Jackson loose, he says, because he won’t leave the family, which in this case is two jennets or jennies, Bonnie and Clementine, in a nearby corral. “We love our donkeys, and for practical reasons,” explains Dave, a retired engineer who just turned 70 and says he hopes never to give up wilderness treks.

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Bonnie, the Danes’ first packing donkey, showed an impressive sense of self-preservation, Dave says, when she balked at crossing her first creek. As Dave heads to the barn on a cool October weekend to dole out carrots, the herd brays in anticipation of treats.

After welcomed scratches on her winter coat, Clementine, the youngest at 6, flops onto her back, rolls in the dirt and kicks toward the sky much like a puppy. Today the brothers live on 4 acres with Misty, a blind Arabian who whinnies if the pair leaves her side.

On a recent fall weekend, Misty is causing a fuss as her companions rush off, feeling frisky in the rain. She’s learned that unlike dogs, her donkeys don’t want a pack leader but a partner.

It’s no surprise people are finding out that donkeys make charming pets, says Marc Benioff, an animal behavior expert and University of Colorado biology professor. Beneath the passive, low- key facade is a bright, joyful animal that will grieve the loss of friends with a ritual bray.

“If you are working in the yard, donkeys will want to help and take your tools.” She’s taught hers to fetch the mail, although they don’t always bring it back. Ross Keller of Conifer isn’t convinced one can apply human logic to donkeys.

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Keller and his wife also drive carts with Candy, although one bumpy course sent the couple flying to the ground. “It was pretty funny, we walked along picking up our thermos, clothes and food.” Five minutes later, Candy came trotting back with the cart.

Lafayette freelance writer Julie Hoffman Marshall is the author of “Making Burros Fly: Cleveland Emory, Animal Rescue Pioneer,” Johnson Books, $17.50. The sturdy, sure-footed beast of burden credited with being a miner’s best friend has lately been redefined as a New Age equine, adopted as a companion to lonely horses and as a trail- worthy pet for people with a little pasture space to spare.

Very Smart Play | Meadow Performance Horses | Developing the ultimate Reined Cow Horse with ability, heart and mind, lasting a lifetime, in and out of the show pen. Has also been shown in Ranch Horse Versatility and Extreme Trail.

© 2020 Meadow Performance Horses | Website by Rodger That Marketing Wikipedia lists over 320 different kinds of horses, each very distinctive in its own way, and each used for very specific purposes by man.

The Malware or Malawi is a rare breed hailing from the Mar war or Jodhpur region of the country. Distinctively known for their ambling gait, ear tips turning inwards and the amazing ability to withstand desert heat, the Malware horses were war horses, historically known for their valor, loyalty and bravery in battles.

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They would very cleverly get fake elephant trunks put on Malware war horses. Panicking in the situation, the elephant swung about, chopping off one of Check's legs with the sword that was attached to his trunk.

Even with a leg chopped off, Check managed to carry Mahayana Protein safely to his brother, Shakti Singh's horse, on which he escaped. Even though the Ragouts were defeated, the battle is held in high regard, thanks to the incredible showcase of bravery and loyalty shown by the Malware war horses.

Disliked by the English, the Mercaris eventually lost out to imported Australian breeds. Although things have gotten better over the years for the Malware breed thanks to the rise of tourism, it's nowhere close to the life they once enjoyed.

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