How intelligent is a horse really?

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We all love horses. That’s why we’re here, right? And we’re sure most of you readers have paused to consider how smart a horse actually is before. Whether it’s a horse of your own or watching equestrian events on TV, it can be really interesting to consider a horse’s intelligence.

That’s exactly what we’re going to do today. While it’s difficult to work out exactly how intelligent a horse is due to not really having a scale as such in the world of science, we can certainly make some judgements based on information we do have.

We all know how impressive a horse’s performance can be, but how much of that is down to its own decision making and how much is down to instincts learned through consistent repetition through training? This is just one of the questions that needs answering.

Some horses are more intelligent than others too. That’s for sure! The best performing horses are likely to be the most intelligent ones, whether it’s equestrian or horse racing they’re taking part in.

If you’ve seen a particularly intelligent looking horse in the world of horse racing as of late, you might just want to place your bets on it. Betting on horse racing really brings the sport to life.

There are some cracking bookmakers who specialize in horse racing out there for you to check out. Maybe you’ll be better equipped to place those bets when you find out how intelligent a horse actually is… so let’s find out right now.

How do we measure intelligence in an animal?

A problem with defining ‘intelligence’ in animals is that we often consider that intelligence in relation to the human species. So, ‘intelligence’ is often actually ‘behavioral similarities to homo sapiens’.

That’s one thing we’re going to try to stay away from today. Realistically, horses aren’t much like us at all.

One straightforward way to define intelligence in animals is to consider the abilities and skills they have that allow them to adapt to the environments they live in.

Another is communication. If animals can communicate effectively with one another, it allows them to develop more strongly as a species through collective organization.

There are other factors at play: emotional intelligence — which animals demonstrate as compassion, problem solving, memory… so we’ll try to cover as many of these factors as possible while we try to work out how intelligent horses are.

One standardized method of measuring the intelligence of an animal is something called the encephalization quotient (EQ). This is a measure of how large an animal’s brain is compared to a creature scaled to the same size.

It doesn’t feel like it goes far enough, especially when animals like the octopus exist with decentralized brains. But if you look at the charts, it does feel pretty accurate. 

Humans are at the top of the list with scores of 7.4-7.8, bottlenose dolphins are second at 5.3 and chimpanzees are third with 2.2-2.5. That ranking sounds about right to us. So, when we’re looking at a horse, let’s start with that.

Discovering the intelligence of a horse

Let’s start with pure math first of all. The horse’s EQ is 0.9. It’s not massive, but it’s far from small either. To give that some context, the score for a dog is 1.2 and for a cat it’s 1.0. On the other hand, the score for a sheep is 0.8 and a rabbit is all the way down at 0.4.

But what about the other factors? When it comes to adapting to their surroundings, horses don’t have to do a whole lot of work. They don’t tend to exist in very challenging conditions, but they’re powerful creatures who can defend themselves well.

Something interesting is a horse’s ability to communicate. Did you know that they actually have a pretty sophisticated method of communication? While their sound communication is rather primitive, their ability to communicate using complex combinations of body language is rather impressive.

What about emotional intelligence? Actually, yes. There is a lot to be said for the emotions felt by horses. They can smell the emotions of human beings and one another – they feel emotions strongly too, a beautiful thing!

It seems like they may struggle a little with problem solving. In fact, they actually turn to humans for help with this. In a sense, that’s pretty smart problem solving in and of itself.

With regards to memory, apparently, horses have very little memory decay. So, even if they haven’t seen you for a long time, they’ll probably recognize your face the next time they do see you. 

A conclusion on the horse’s intelligence

With a strong ability to defend itself, great communication and low memory decay, it’s clear that the horse is quite an intelligent beast. We don’t feel that its encephalization quotient score does it justice.

So, next time you’re out riding your horse or watching horses on TV, take a minute to consider just how intelligent they are.

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