Are horses smarter than dogs?

How intelligent are horses compared to dogs?

It’s really difficult to measure inteligence at all, much less try to get meaningful comparisons between species. When species are fairly close yet with very different lifestyles like horses and dogs we are forced to resort to a lot of assumptions to establish anything much.

Having said all that, from what I’ve seen horses are generally considered to have faster trial-and error learning ability but come well behind dogs WRT problem solving.

I agree all that comes into play when there are close calls. However, having been around horses and dogs all my life, I have to ask “Are you crazy?” Horses only look semi-smart because they tend to hand around things like cows and sheep all the time. Horses are STOOOOPID. Horses respond to conditioning better than some animals but they are no free thinkers and don’t seem to bond with humans in ways that dogs do. Dogs seem to have a rudimentary conscience and can do some pretty clever problem solving.

I say, no comparison whatsoever.

Hnce the reaons why they are ocnsidered ot be faster trial-and-error learners. Most conditioning is essentially trial and error. See object A, event B occurs, reaction C ensues. See object A, reaction C ensues.

Hence the problme of gauging relative intelligence. The social structure of horses is inherently different to that of dogs. Dog/wolf social structure is closer to that of humans naturally so any bonds will be stronger.

Concsience is a stretch. Theory of mind, certainly. Of course horses can also do some clever problem solving is they have mind too, such as opening gates. But being herbivores they generally have less incentive to solve problems. It’s hard for a paddock full of grass to hide under a log the way a rabbit can. It’s also hard to bury several tonnes of grass to hide it fom other horses.

I’ll see if i can find the material I read suggesting that horses are superior trial and error learners. Don’t hold your breath though.

I agree that it is hard to do a direct comparison without resorting to own biases. However, word in the training arena has long been that mules are much more intelligent than horses also..

I admit, I have a bias against horses. I was almost killed on a run-away once. I got away with a sprained neck and ankle. The thing just spooked and bolted through the woods taking me through limbs until I was knocked off. A female FOAF loved her horse more than anything. She had him since she was a child and rode and cared for him all the time. One day, her parents wondered why she didn’t come back for dinner and found her dead with a hoof mark to the forehead. She was working with him like she always did when he decided to kick. Her horse was just casually chomping hay next to her body.

My wife and daughter both have horses now My wife has owned and ridden horses all of her life. I also had them growing up. Romantic notions aside, there is nothing smart about a horse.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love horses. But either I had a whole string of stupid horses (which is possible–some of them were about one jump from the glue factory), or dogs are much smarter.

When horses make assumptions they are extremely addled assumptions. I’ve also concluded they don’t see that well. I based this on two things that happened when I was riding. One, I had ridden out on country roads which were, at the time, dirt. It was summertime, and for whatever reasons county trucks would from time to time drive along drizzling water onto the road. So as I was returning, at a nice fast clip because I like going fast and we were on the way back to the barn we were going to cross this dirt road upon which water had been drizzled, which made it appear darker than it had been before and darker than the intersecting road we were on.

So my mare, thinking it was some kind of new chasm that had just sprung up, jumped it. Surprised the hell out of me; I was not expecting a jump.

Two, same horse. The dirt road we rode out on went by an old, but occupied, farmhouse. One that had not been painted in several years, possibly several decades. So one day we were heading off down the road and when we were even with the fence of this place the mare skittered about six feet to the side while curving her neck and casting a very suspicious look at the fence. Why? Because it had been painted green. (Or anyway that’s the only thing I can conclude. Apparently to a horse dark green looks very different from not-painted-in-decades gray.)

Of course all this could have been a clever ploy on her part to Get Rid of the Rider, which wouldn’t have been too smart either because then she probably would have gotten hit by a truck or something.

Those are just two examples. Of course I did some dumb things too, I can only imagine what the horses were saying. (“Get her, wearing flip-flops in the corral, hoo boy what a dufus!”) I have some dumb dog stories too, but they sure weren’t as consistent about it as the horses. The only dumb thing I’ve seen cats do is jump onto things they can’t get off of.

Shagnasty’s opinion is obviously more than slighltly biased by his experience, but I have to agree with his opinion that horses often seem to be credited with more intelligence than they’re due by owners. Horses, in general, seem to be more prone to flighty behavior and a lack of conceptualization; it’s relatively easy to get a horse to do something that is contrary to its own best interest, and while they can be deceitful and malicious, they don’t demonstrate the kind of problem-solving or awareness of future ramifications that the smarter canines can display. It’s also not quite a fair comparison, insofar as some types or breeds of dogs have been deliberately bred for some degree of autnomous problem solving ability (i.e. heelers and shepherds) and more generally, social interaction with humans, while domestic horses have been bred for duties that require strict obedience. And, in modern times, dogs are clearly bred to display infantile characteristics that make the more represent human children (shorters snouts, smaller ears, facial “expressions” of apparent amusement) which makes us percieve them as being smarter and more attuned to our lifestyles.

As Blake indicates, these represent different intellectual abilities. In a situation requiring autonomy and independent problem-solving for survival, I’d expect dogs to last longer than horses, but dietary, size, and other considerations also feed into that equation. That being said, anyone who has worked with both horses and donkeys (or mules) will readily concur that the latter is clearly more intelligent than the former; donkeys will readily bond with a human, but only if the human in question displays compassion and good judgement. An attempt to “break” a donkey by domination methods will just result in one pissed off, obdurate donkey, while horses generally require such training methods in order to control them. Donkeys are also more independent and likely to be found leading a group rather than following; ranchers sometimes put a donkey in with horses or cattle in order to calm and control the other animals by having the donkey lead them.

In rough terms, I’d equate the intelligence of dogs and donkeys (to the point of giving donkeys the slight edge). I’d put horses at a disadvantage to either, particularly with regard to problem solving and sociability. I’d certainly rather own either of the former than the latter. But then, maybe that’s just because I like the breying sound that donks make.


Don’t horses lack the concept of object permanence? To the point where, if a horse is spooked by something he sees, all you need do is wrap a cloth around his head and he’ll calm down and walk right through whatever is was that scared him?

Sounds pretty daft to me.

Yes…one of my horses didn’t like to get into the trailer. Solution: blindfold her, walk her right up that ramp.

The other thing I could do was ride her into the trailer. If there was enough clearance and I remembered to duck.

But I do think horses can bond with people.

Based on my experience, ranking our barnyard buddies from smartest to dumbest:


I remember many years ago famous Australian jockey George Mulley was asked about the courage of some horse on which he had just won. He replied that the question was merely a romantic notion and racehorses are “half a ton of dull, stupid animal.”

I just can’t see any reason to consider the possibility of comparable intelligence between horses and dogs. Just watch a border collie on its own herd sheep. Horses require the intelligence of a human rider to herd cattle.

Of course, border collies are the Mensa candidates of the dog world. :wink:

But you are confusing intelligence with instinct. Collies herd sheep because wolves hunt sheep. All that people have done is remove that portion of the instinct that leads to the actual kill. While border collies rae clever dogs there is little intelligence involved in this task, and even collies that have never seen a sheep will try to herd chickens, children, cats etc. IOW it’s largely instinctive, though fine-tuned through experience.

One might just as well point out that a stallion will herd his mares away from danger, and a dog has to be with a human handler before it can do that. Therefore horses are more intelligent. Of course intelligence doesn’t enter into it, this is just instinctive behaviour.

You think it’s intelligent if you want the animal to do it, and if you own a border collie that insists on heridng children and cats or a stallion that drives away the mare you want to get a saddle on you think they are incredibly stupid because it’s almost impossible to train them out of it.

I work with a woman who is a World Champion dressage rider and have heard her refer to her horse as 1200 pounds of stupid.

LOL, Corn just about killed me! You owe me a beer someday. :wink:

I thought pigs were smarter than dogs. And why do people assume cats are dumber than dogs? Just cause they don’t want to do tricks? I would assume that willingness to not do humiliating tricks would be a sign of intelligence. :slight_smile:

I have heard pigs are smarter than dogs as well but not having spent much time with pigs I can only go with hearsay.

I grew up with horses and while it has been awhile used to spend loads of time with horses. I have also had dogs and cats pretty much my whole life.

While it may be anecdotal I will go with the other opinions here that horses are pretty dim animals. Dogs have them beat in the smarts department paws/hooves down. I understand it is difficult equating intelligence between different species but really…when the gap is wide enough it is pretty apparent and anyone who has spent a fair amount of time around these two animals will, I am reasonably certain, all say dogs have the horse beat clearly in intelligence.

Having had cats pretty much as much as I have had dogs I will go with dog is smarter than cat too although I think the gap is much closer than between horses and dogs.

Ohrrrr… If they knew what was good for 'em they’d do tricks! :mad:

(j/k) :wink:

When I was a boy, many a day did I see the corn outwit the chickens, running rings around them in riddles and puzzles. O course, bein’ non-motile didn’t help much, but at least they were able to laugh, the l’il buggers, as they went down the gizzard.

I’ve owned lots of cats and dogs. I love them both. I have three cats right now and I adore them.

Cats are stupid.

Dogs aren’t exactly up to the challenge of quantum physics either, but if I had to pick, I’d have to says cats are even dumber. They’re credited for being smart animals because they’re graceful and elegant and can use their paws like hands, sort of, but really, their brains just ain’t all that. Most of the time a cat just sits there thinking, “hummana hummana hummana.”

As to the issue of horses, I’ve little experience with them, but my father used to raise, break and train them. According to him they’re not very bright, but in his words, “They’re as smart as a horse needs to be.” He was a psychology major so he’s smart enough not to think you can really compare two species.