Just how smart are horses? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 33 Old 03-01-2012, 09:08 PM Thread Starter
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Just how smart are horses?

I thought it might be interesting to start a discussion on horse training related to 'Just How Smart are horses?'

Does intelligence correlate directly with how easy or difficult a horse is to train?

What is the difference between 'learned behavior' and 'reasoning'?

Does a smart horse learn more quickly?

How do you differentiate what is learned by repetition and conditioning and what is learned by thinking and reasoning.

Are both conditioned responses and reasoning good measuring guides for intelligence?

Would you rather train a smart horse than a not-so-smart one? [Note -- I didn't say 'dumb horse'!

If you listed well known domesticated animals, where would you place horses against dogs, cats, cattle, pigs, etc?

What 'tests' would you use to rate intelligence?

I will see how this shapes up and then tell you what I think and why. I know what criteria I use to determine intelligence and how it relates to training (or more correctly, learning). It is very obvious to me that I, personally, do not use the same criteria to judge intelligence as many other members do here.

Please keep it civil and non-confrontational. I am not trying to start a fight but rather an informed discussion.
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post #2 of 33 Old 03-01-2012, 09:12 PM
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Cool thread, I think a smart horse is great to train if you are as smart as him, more like can think like him.

I think people think like humans when training- it doesn't work well and therefor is the root of a lot of problems or bad habits.
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post #3 of 33 Old 03-01-2012, 09:29 PM
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Quote:
Would you rather train a smart horse than a not-so-smart one? [Note -- I didn't say 'dumb horse'!
I don't have a real thought out answer to all these questions. But this one stuck out to me because I have 2 geldings, half brothers (same sire) with completely different mind-sets.

My Curly gelding is super laid back, easy going, not a care in the world, but he's the type of horse that you point, kick and he'll go. He doesn't fight with you, he's a very easy horse to ride and is a sweetheart. He's not "dumb" but...I don't know, it's hard to explain, he just seems to not care as much for what he does when I'm working with him.

His half brother on the other hand, a Curly/Spanish Mustang cross, is a highly intelligent horse. He will test you, push your buttons, and test the limits before he settles into his work. He KNOWS what he's supposed to do. With my mom, he can be naughty. With me, he's usually good as gold because he knows that I won't put up with his crap. He catches on very quickly and the stuff that he learns, really sticks. But his intelligence can play against him.

If I had to pick a horse to work with, I'd much rather have a super willing horse that is easy to work with, over a very intelligent horse that tries to out-think you.

I hope this makes sense. I very rarely ride the purebred Curly, the crossbreed is my main choice between the two because I know that he isn't going to be a butt with me, but I see a lot of frustration come out when other people try to ride him. He is a GREAT horse to work with, as long as your experienced with horses. If not, he'll out-think you.

I'll come back to the other questions with my opinions later.
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post #4 of 33 Old 03-01-2012, 10:07 PM
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^^I agree there is a difference between smart and willing vs. smart not willing that makes training easier...or maybe I am not smart enough to make those kind work..lol


Going back to one of original questions, I think all species are smart in their own way.
But not so much the intelligence level but more like our ability to think like the species, personality and conditioning of that animal to be able communicate with it.

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post #5 of 33 Old 03-01-2012, 11:22 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by COWCHICK77 View Post
Cool thread, I think a smart horse is great to train if you are as smart as him, more like can think like him.

I think people think like humans when training- it doesn't work well and therefor is the root of a lot of problems or bad habits.
I agree…and "intelligence" is a human term. What would make an intelligent wild horse would not be the same as an intelligent domestic one.
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post #6 of 33 Old 03-01-2012, 11:43 PM
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dogs can be incredibly smart, but I think the way we sense intelligence in animals gets mixed up with their domesticity. Dogs ("man's best friend") are so domesticated that their lives are very much intertwined with humans. I watched a really cool documentary on dogs not too long ago and now I'm completely fascinated. Lol. They are among the only animals who look to our eyes and can read emotion, they follow our eye movements similar to what we do when communicating with each other. I think because of this, it is easier for us to communicate effectively with dogs, and we get a lot out of these interactions. Where with horses it is completely different! We have to learn their language and it does not come as naturally. Instead people try to force a horse to think like a human and then both horse and human are left frustrated.

I have no idea how I would measure intelligence in horses. I just assume most horses are very smart in general. Sometimes I think when they find different ways to challenge you or try different things to see what they can get away with is a sign of some complex thinking.
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post #7 of 33 Old 03-01-2012, 11:51 PM
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I do think horses are "intelligent" beings with the ability to do deductive reasoning. Here is why. I bought my horse from a man who had gotten my horse on trade from a lady who lives about three miles away from me down an old logging road which makes for a great trail ride road. He got the mare about 5 years ago. He moved her to his farm about 17 miles away where she lived for about a year. I bought her 3 years ago and in that time the original owner had moved away. I saddled her up and decided to take her down the road from which she originally came almost a year after I got her...at this point it was about 2 whole years since she had been "home". When we got to the point on the road where the old saw mill is she instantly started to act different...like a horse who is headed home would do. She got excited wanted to move faster and started calling out to see if her old herd buddies would answer her. Sadly there was no response as I said because they had since moved. But she remembered where she was at. There had to be some deductive reasoning in that...and I swear it went something like recognizing the "landmark" of the saw mill because we were at that point still a good mile away from the farm she came from. SO I don't think she would have been able to smell it, or anything to do with sense recognition. It was a very good example of just how extremely sharp their memory can be.

As for which kinda horse I like working with. The smarter ones are often harder to "get to" because they are often smarter than some training methods and can outwit them. For instance a TWH I was breaking had a real issue with moving out. So I tried tiping her nose to the left to knock her off balance a little to get her to start moving...she was so smart that she figured out that if she wrapped her head all the way back around till her nose touched my boot I could do nothing to mover her that way. She would stand there bent like that totally still like a statue. So I moved to the crop which well she couldn't outsmart. A less intelligent animal may be more willing to do as you want. But I find them duller to work with. I like the challenge and the reward of getting to the smarter horse. And I like a horse who is smart...they have your back alot.
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post #8 of 33 Old 03-01-2012, 11:59 PM
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Personally, I don't think "smart" has anything to do with willingness. A "bad trainer" can take an eager, willing horse and turn it into a dull, disinterested one easier than a "good trainer" can the opposite. To me, training is doing one thing and one thing only - putting meaning to a word/touch/action, etc. Teaching the horse that *whatever word/touch/action/cue etc.* means something or means nothing and should be ignored (desensitizing). That's it. The qualities I look for in a horse are the things I cannot train into him and the main one I look for is CURIOSITY.
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post #9 of 33 Old 03-02-2012, 12:19 AM
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Personally, I don't think "smart" has anything to do with willingness.
Oh I don't know about that. I have known horses who were so smart they had very little "willingness" to do anything other than eat & sleep. They were smart enough to understand that they didn't have to do a dang thing and understood that I being 135 pounds versus there 1300 pounds wasn't ever going to make them do it either. So you as a trainer have to try to find what they are "willing" to compromise on or enjoy...and I have met a couple horses that weren't willing to do a dang thing and compromising was also not in their game plan...not because they were too stupid to do it, just so smart they knew they didn't have to do it and it would interfere with their plans of eating, meandering around, and sleeping.
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post #10 of 33 Old 03-02-2012, 12:30 AM
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If you ask Walter Zettl, he will tell you that horses are stupid animals, and that is why they let us on their backs... My friend (in comment to the aforementioned statement) said that, no, horses are actually smart for letting us on their backs! It's entrapment, once they let us up there all comfortable and such then they ditch us in the dirt :P

I think horses have a high degree of trainability and have good logic and reasoning skills. Moreso than some humans. However, I do not believe they have true "emotions" and that they live purely in the moment without dwelling on the past or the future or how something makes them "feel". A horse refusing to load in a trailer after a bad accident is not doing so because they "feel scared", but instead because the last time they were in the trailer, something bad happened and their logic and reasoning is telling them not to repeat the experience. This is the same as why a horse will nuzzle your pocket. It's not because they "love" you or it "feels nice", it's because the last time they did it, there was a positive response (a treat).

Is this intelligence though?? We often think the horses who identify and act on patterns more quickly are "smart".. is it?
From wikipedia:
"Intelligence has been defined in different ways, including the abilities, but not limited to, abstract thought, understanding, self-awareness, communication, reasoning, learning, having emotional knowledge, retaining, planning, and problem solving."

Horses posses some of these qualities.. but not all. They can't think abstractly, they don't "plan" or "hold a grudge" (living in the moment") and have limited understanding.. But otherwise yes I would say that horses are "intelligent" to some fraction of the standard..
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