Are Horses Smart? Facts On the Horse’s Memory, Learning Ability, and More


I have had so many people tell me that horses are stupid and unintelligent animals that have a brain the size of a pea. Well this is not the case. Horses are actually very intelligent animals with incredible memories and exceptional learning ability.

So Are Horses Smart?

Yes, horses are very intelligent animals though it isn’t comparable to human intelligence. Horses are able to recognize and remember special people, tricks they learned, significant events that impacted them, and other horses they were bonded with previously in their life. There is a saying that goes “horses will always forgive, but never forget.” This definitely holds true to abused horses or horses with a rough past. They don’t hold grudges, but they don’t forget what hurt them either. These animals can learn a lot and retain what they have learned for a long time.

Can Horses Remember People?

Yes, absolutely! Horses remember previous owners and handlers for a very long time! An example of this that I experienced myself was my experience with my horse Bronze. When I had to give him up and he went to a barn as a lesson horse, he knew who I was and was excited to see me when I went to visit him a couple weeks later.

Some horses remember abusive or harsh trainers as well and fear these people. One example of this was horses that I saw in the “Big-Lick” training videos where the horses were so poorly treated and abused by the trainers that they seemed to cower in fear when being approached by these trainers. These horses may be friendly to a normal person, but they showed they didn’t like the trainers who abused them. The horses were able to remember and recognize the people who did them no wrong, and the people who hurt them.

Can Horses Remember Old Disciplines They Used To Compete In A Long Time Ago?

Yes, they totally can. If you have ever ridden a retired reining horse, it is evident that they remember their old job when asked to turn or stop. I have ridden three ex-reiners. One of the reining horses that I rode was my very own Bronze. Barrel racing horses are also known to forever remember a barrel pattern and even old retired barrel horses get excited when they see barrels set up.

The first ex-Reiner I rode was a horse named Pinkie. In reining, the riders do something called a spur stop where they spur or squeeze the horses sides until the horse stops. This is to maintain slack reins when riding. When riding Pinkie bareback, I decided to try to stop him with a spur stop to see if he remembered that part of his training from so many years ago. To my surprise, after a good squeeze, Pinkie stopped for me even though he hadn’t done a spur stop for years.

Another experience I has with an ex-Reiner was riding a buckskin horse named Rowdy. He had been retired due to a severe leg injury years before I rode him, and was working as a lesson horse for beginners. Rowdy was really a fun horse to ride and would still turn/spin fast for anyone who asked him even though his reining days were long since over.

Another example of a horse retaining their knowledge from competing in a certain discipline is when riding my horse Bronze. My sister and I once rode our Arabians to the park where we would occasionally ride. This one day when riding through the grass, I asked Bronze to stop and he did a sliding stop for me. This was after I had turned him almost completely into an English hunter horse. Bronze would still turn for me as well when I asked him to and once did a sliding stop when I turned him out in the arena to let him stretch his legs.

Can Horses Learn Tricks?

If you look at videos of Poker Joe and horses like him who do trick shows you will be able to see for yourself that horses can learn a number of tricks. Horses can learn to rear and buck, ‘sit’ down, lie down, shake their head no, and much more all on command!

Show-Me, my first horse, knew how to say no by shaking her head. The way we did this was by wiggling our finger in her ear so she shook her head. We did this until she learned that if we shook our finger she would shake her head. It was a really fun trick to show to friends because they didn’t know that we were telling Show-Me to say no.

Are Horses Smarter Than Dogs?

This question is hard to answer as both dogs and horses have great emotional intelligence, the ability to sense emotion, and the mental capacity to learn many commands. Overall, dogs are typically faster learners and bond better to humans where as horses see people as part of the herd and it takes longer to learn tricks and commands. Usually once a dog knows a command it will do that command when asked for the rest of its life. Horses usually need to be kept up on certain commands and will constantly need to be trained and retrained through its life to continue to do some things or start something else.

These animals are very different so it is hard to answer this question.

Can Horses Remember Other Horses?

Yes horses can remember other horses that they were close with in a herd or who was with them for a great portion of their life.

An example of this is a true story of a wild mare and stallion who were in the same herd. They were separated later in life by the Bureau of Land Management as the herds of horses were too big for the land and vegetation to support. The mare and stallion were later bought by a woman who knew of their bond and after several years of being apart, the two were reunited. While the horses were separated, the woman, who later reunited the two horses, said that the stallion seemed really sad and didn’t care much about the other horses on the property until his mare returned.

My two Arabians were owned by two little girls early in their lives and worked and lived at the same training facility. Bronze and Crossfiire had stalls right next to each other and developed a strong bond with each other. They were later separated as Bronze was sold to someone else and left the stable. The two reunited, once they had been retired from showing, at a school that offered a horsemanship program to their students and they were together again for about four years. I then got Crossfiire from this school and then Bronze three or four months later. When they met after their brief separation they were really excited and after about two days, they acted as if they had never been separated at all.

Summary

A lot was said so let me sum it up for you.

Horses are intelligent animals especially when it comes to emotional intelligence. These animals can remember people and other horses who were significant in their lives. Even after retirement from a sport for many years, horses remember how to do the sport they used to compete in, if not aspects of it. Horses can learn a great variety of tricks and commands and it is undetermined if horses are smarter than dogs or not as they are such different animals.

Hailey Johnson

Horses have been my passion ever since I can remember. At school, I was known as that weird horse girl, and I would read horse encyclopedias for fun. Over the years since those days, I have only learned more. My experiences with horses of a variety of breeds have taught me a lot. Now I want to share what I know with you!

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