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7 Reasons Why Horses Are Smarter Than Dogs

Last updated: February 16, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

I was talking with my grandson the other day about smart animals. He told me horses are smarter than dogs, and I asked why he thought that. “Well,” he said, “you can train horses to do all kinds of things, like pull carriages, work cattle, and even control unruly crowds.” I had to admit that he had a point. So we made a list of seven reasons horses are smarter than dogs.

  1. Horses can learn more quickly than dogs.
  2. Horses can remember more information than dogs.
  3. Horses are better problem solvers than dogs.
  4. Horses have better spatial awareness than dogs.
  5. Horses are better at understanding human communication than dogs are.
  6. Horses can sense and respond to human gestures and body language better than dogs.
  7. Horses can communicate better with each other than dogs.

Though dogs are considered to be man’s best friend, horses have several qualities that make them smarter. In this post, we’ll explore some of the reasons why horses are thought to be more intelligent animals.

Picture of a horse and dog eating from the ground.

Horses are smarter than dogs.

It’s a debate that has been around for years – which animal is more intelligent, a horse or a dog? After careful consideration, we have concluded that horses are smarter than dogs. Here is how I came to this conclusion.

Before we compare the intelligence of two species, like horses and dogs, we need to define animal intelligence. Intelligence is the measure of the ability to solve complex problems. Some people believe that dogs are smarter because they can be taught commands and perform tricks. 

Dogs are often also explicitly bred for specific traits – guarding, hunting, retrieving, working on farms, etc. They also go on walks and meet and greet people and other dogs. People naturally tend to think of animal smartness in terms of trainability. Dogs are generally considered easy to train – some breeds’ are even easier to train than others. The result is that dogs are primed for success. 

All these factors make people erroneously think that horses aren’t as smart as dogs. However, that isn’t the case. We can’t use the same standards or parameters to measure and compare canine and equine intelligence. We also cannot expect horses to participate in the same tests as dogs and show the same results.

Furthermore, we must not forget that dogs were domesticated much earlier than horses – approximately 23,000 years ago (while horses were domesticated just about 6000 years ago.) Naturally, dogs have been with humans longer. 

When we consider how much horses have accomplished in terms of human rapport and service in the relatively short time they were domesticated, we must recognize that horses are smart and were instrumental in shaping the world as farmworkers, warhorses, and industrial laborers.

Again, ideally, there should not be a comparison between the intelligence of the two species. After all, horses are prey animals and shouldn’t be compared with predatory animals like dogs.

I think we’ve established that both horses and dogs are easy to train and can form a bond with humans. However, there are some other things we can look at to figure out which is smarter.

Picture of a horse and dog playing.

Horse Brain vs. Dog Brain

Horse brains are larger than dog brains and have more folds and furrows. A horse’s brain weighs almost 2.5 to 3 lb., which is similar in weight to a human child’s brain.

Experts like William Simpson believe that horses have the intelligence of a 12-year-old human. He states that because of a horse’s large cerebellum (which controls functions like movement), they can stand and walk within an hour of birth.

A horse’s brain is larger than the average dog’s brain, which is just about the size of a lemon and weighs around 6 grams or 0.013 lb. . This means that a horse’s brain has a greater amount of furrows and creases, which enable them to store more information and optimize more brain matter.

A large brain mass and brain size have often been the general measure of intelligence. This shows that horses are a lot smarter than dogs.

Horses are More Perceptive

According to the experts at Rutgers, horses are the most perceptive of all domesticated mammals. This is because they are prey animals and have retained their ability to detect predators through stimuli that go unnoticed by other animals and humans.

In the wild, predators and prey have different “types” of intelligence. If a predator makes a mistake and the prey escapes, the predator can try again. But if the prey animal makes a mistake, it can be fatal, so they are extremely sensitive to signs of danger.

Because of their sensitivity and perception, horses can easily read human emotions and moods. They can even relate a human’s facial expression to what they feel and can remember those expressions and moods, which is why some horses are so good at reading the slightest cues of riders.

Unfortunately, inexperienced riders tend to mistake a horse’s sensitive and perceptive nature for spooky or scared behavior. In reality, this is a measure of the horse’s intelligence because it can use its keen sense of understanding to keep itself and its herd-mates safe.

Picture of a white horse used to pony young horses. This horse is smarter than most.

Horses Form Strong Bonds with Their Humans

In the wild, horses depend on their herd mates for survival. On the other hand, domesticated horses rely on their human handlers for the same security. This is why they value their owners and human acquaintances. 

In the wild, horses form close ties with their herd-mates but also are willing to interact temporarily with horses of other herds. This could be why domesticated horses are eager to form bonds with other non-threatening humans. 

Most dog breeds are known to be aloof with strangers. While this gives them excellent watchdog capabilities, it also indicates the dogs’ naturally suspicious and unfriendly behavior with strangers.

This could also indicate that dogs are food-motivated or food driven and need it for survival, which is why they aren’t willing to bond with people who do not feed them.

Horses Have Excellent Memories

Horses never forget. They have excellent memories that help them recollect friends they haven’t seen for almost ten years! In fact, horses can put elephants to shame when it comes to memory!

Dogs usually have very short, short-term memories. They also only have episodic memories, meaning they only remember stuff through associations. A National Geographic event has also shown that dogs forget an event after 2 minutes!

This could be why many dogs do not immediately recognize their owners after a long gap. An interesting study to talk about here: researchers in Japan developed special touch screens for horses displaying different shapes and sizes.

If the horses touched their muzzles to specific shapes, they would get treated with a carrot. Most horses did exceptionally well on this test, showing their ability to retain things and their super memory. .trailer edited 1

Horses Have Unique Ways of Learning Things

According to equine expert Janet Jones Ph.D., horses have a unique way of learning. In the wild, they remember each horse’s social hierarchy and role. They also remember where grass and water are located.

Wild horses remember the smell of each animal and can recall which situations to avoid. In a human environment, horses even memorize the sounds of tractors and trailers and use their heightened sensitivity to seek tiny signals.

Horses can associate verbal commands with specific behaviors. This is why every horse trainer needs to understand that horses learn quickly but forget poorly. This is also why trainers must accommodate human errors when teaching a horse. It is also essential to acknowledge a horse’s easy trainability, given the fact that many of the rider’s commands might contradict their instincts.

Horses Have Better Cognitive Skills and are Better Communicators

A Japanese study has shown that horses can use visual and tactile signals to ask their humans for help.  For example, horses bang on the stalls’ walls with their hooves around feeding time to indicate hunger. This shows that horses are excellent communicators and can show emotions like frustration.

Further proof of the horse’s intelligence is its results in the Mirror test. The mirror test includes showing the animal a mirror to see if it can ‘recognize’ its reflection. Surprising and contradictory to everything we have been saying here, most horses did not pass the mirror test!

However, horses still managed to surprise the researchers. They were the only animals that interacted in unique ways with the mirror and spent a lot of time studying it and its reflection. Some horses even did unique or special mouth movements while staring at the mirror.

This shows the horse’s ability to communicate and its superior cognition.

Horses Can Plan Ahead

A Norwegian study conducted in 2016 showed that horses could be trained to communicate their blanketing needs to their owners – which further shows that they can plan ahead. 

Researchers used 23 horses in the study and trained them for just two weeks to use unique signals to indicate whether they wanted their handlers to remove their blanket, put on a blanket, or leave it unchanged (depending on whether the horse already wore a blanket or not).

Furthermore, the horses could even show that they wanted their blankets removed in warmer weather and ask for blankets in cool and wet weather. All these studies show us that horses are brilliant animals.

Conclusion – Why Are Horses Smarter Than Dogs

Dogs are amazing creatures and have been man’s best friend for centuries, but from what I learned, horses are smarter than dogs. They can learn quicker, remember things longer, and solve problems faster than dogs.

This doesn’t mean that dogs are dumb- they are still incredibly smart animals with a lot to offer their human companions. But it is interesting to see how horses are slowly gaining ground as the “smarter” animal. Have you ever had a horse experience that changed your mind about their intelligence?

Regardless of which is smarter, I like both animals, and the dogs and horses get along great at our house.

FAQs – Reasons Why Horses are Smarter than Dogs?

Are horses loyal like dogs?

Yes, horses can be loyal like dogs. Horses are herd animals and prefer to live in groups. They often develop strong attachments to the people who care for them, viewing them as members of their herd.

Do horses feel human love?

There is no definitive answer, as horses are individuals just like people and will each respond differently. However, many horse owners and experts report that horses can feel human love and appreciate it in return.

What is the IQ of horses and dogs?

There is no definitive answer to this question since IQ tests have not been developed specifically for horses or dogs. However, some generalizations can be made. Some believe horses have the IQ of a 12- year old person and dogs have an IQ equivalent to a 2-year-old child.