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Just how smart are horses?

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    03-02-2012, 02:08 PM
  #21
Banned
Quote:
Does intelligence correlate directly with how easy or difficult a horse is to train?
Yep

Quote:
What is the difference between 'learned behavior' and 'reasoning'?
Learned behaviour is something that is conditioned as a result of trial and error. The horse associates certain responses with favorable or unfavorable consequences. It then learns to repeat those behaviours that led to favorable results.

I'm thinking that horses best demonstrate innate behaviour and learned or conditioned behaviour.

Reasoning is a way to solve problems without trial and error. I'm not convinced that's appropriate in terms of how anything other than primates learn.

Quote:
Does a smart horse learn more quickly?
Yes for sure... and it learns bad just as quickly as it learns good.

Quote:
How do you differentiate what is learned by repetition and conditioning and what is learned by thinking and reasoning.
See above

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

Quote:
Would you rather train a smart horse than a not-so-smart one? [Note -- I didn't say 'dumb horse'!
My personal preference is for smart, opinionated horses. The sort that can figure out things and keep themselves from harm work well for me.

Dumb, dead head horses do nothing for me at all. Indeed they're often their own worst enemy because they put up with bad stuff.

Give me one that evades and resists idiotic, cack handed management any day of the week.

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

Quote:
What 'tests' would you use to rate intelligence?
The capability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend ideas, use language, to learn, and have the most creativity, personality, character, knowledge, wisdom and to be able to use tools and equipment to aid performance of a task.

That and Cortical neurons in the brain.

Horses though are in the category of having the ability to be trained to respond to an increasingly complex set of stimuli with a repertoire of learned behaviours. They're exceptionally good at that being flight and fright prey animals.

When it comes to horses then I measure it by:

The Scope of learning – the cognitive ability of a horse to solve increasingly complex problems.


Rate of learning - The time it takes for the horse to learn a task.


Retention of learning – The ability of the horse to remember the learned behavior.
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    03-02-2012, 02:30 PM
  #22
rob
Weanling
A good trainer had better be smarter than what they are working with,remember,animals have a mind of their own.and in certain situations,put yourself in his place.
     
    03-02-2012, 09:50 PM
  #23
Weanling

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

I think intelligence plays a part in how trainable a horse is, but it is only one of many factors: willingness, dominance, age, physicality and a number of other aspects can impact it.

What is the difference between 'learned behavior' and 'reasoning'?
Learned behavior is just what it sounds like, over a series of repeated events, the subject knows that they can expect one to precede another. Reasoning involves apparent "leaps of logic," where two events are not always or often obviously associated, but the subject manages to "put 2 and 2 together" linking the events.

Does a smart horse learn more quickly?
This one is very subjective. If you mean left to their own devices, ie. In a wild state, then yes, a smarter horse will learn more quickly. If you mean in a training situation, then as stated above, this will depend on the dynamic relationship with the trainer, the horse's disposition, and a long list of other factors. For example, based on my observations of them, I am willing to say that my two fillies are of very similar intelligence levels, however, Zanna is much easier to train and much farther progressed in her training because she enjoys human interaction more and has fun in her training sessions where Vexy only tolerates it.

How do you differentiate what is learned by repetition and conditioning and what is learned by thinking and reasoning.
This is hard to put your finger on with horses because most horse people are deeply ingrained creatures of habit. If you have a horse that is sensitive, it is possible to condition them for a response in only one session. Logic is much harder to prove. Again using my own for an example, at first glace, some people would call it logic that they will play with the chain on the gate in an attempt to open the gate and come into the barn. I am much more willing to think this is observation just as they would use in the wild learning which plants are safe to eat by seeing what their dam eats.

Are both conditioned responses and reasoning good measuring guides for intelligence?
They can be, but it would be different forms of intelligence that would be judged by each.

Would you rather train a smart horse than a not-so-smart one? [Note -- I didn't say 'dumb horse'!
I like smart horses because they can be more fun and are more of a challenge to me as a rider and trainer. Far more important to me, though, as I said in my other post, is a willing disposition.

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

I don't want to generalize, I feel this would be much more on an individual animal basis.

What 'tests' would you use to rate intelligence?
Observation. Watching how they play is, to me, one of the bests ways to rate how smart they are. As soon as you add human interaction into the equation, you alter the outcome with extra variables.
     
    03-02-2012, 10:01 PM
  #24
Weanling
I have two horses that are both willing and fairly smart. I am lucky, I think, because they both learn quickly and we have great communication.

But with all domestic animals, I think there's a lot of genetics AND training, both by the mommy and the people, that contribute to the overall intelligence of an animal. I have 2 Jack Russells, and one was a farm raised dog from working stock, and the other was a rescue from a puppy mill ... I bet you can guess which is the smarter dog! It's 4 years down the road and we are STILL working things like house training with the puppy mill rescue - so I think a lot of that plays into intelligence; the mare especially, because she 'trains' the foal after birth, too. But I think smart horses are willing horses, too. I think there is intelligence saying "it's better to try to work together than try to work apart". I think some horses get that, especially after establishing respect in the relationship.
     
    03-02-2012, 10:50 PM
  #25
Super Moderator
I said I would weigh in with my opinion on the subject. Let me start by saying that I think intelligence requires reasoning. I think we, as trainers and care-givers, need to know the difference between instincts and 'hard-wired' behaviors and intelligent reasoning.

I believe a horse is hard-wired to be a 'herd animal' and a 'flight animal'. I believe that these two natural instincts are something that we have to work constantly -- forever -- to control. While individual dispositions and natural inclinations (like being more 'flighty' and 'spooky' or more settled and easy going) have a great influence on this, the basic flight and herd instincts are just that -- hard wired instincts.

I think that 'willingness and trainability' are the traits that make horses easier or more difficult to train. These are 'X factors' that are impossible to measure, but any top event trainer will tell you that they will take willingness and trainability way before ability.

Over the years, I have tried to set up circumstances that would actually reflect intelligence rather than naturally occurring instincts or willingness. I have been around many different kinds of horses, donkeys, mules, cattle, sheep, goats and hogs. We have had bison for many years and have been around a myriad of dogs and cats. I have trained many cattle and trained one to ride and rode her quite a bit. [I used to carry a shovel and ride her out in the fields to change irrigation water.] I also had a bottle raised bison that was semi-trained to ride. Sold him to Charlie Battles (Reba McIntire's first husband) to finish training to make a rodeo act out of -- He didn't!

I, personally, do not think that intelligence plays a very big part in how trainable a horse is. I think the main quality that allows them to be trained is their willingness to yield to pressure -- the ease by which they are intimidated by pressure and their desire to do whatever it takes to get that pressure to go away. I think it makes a lot MORE difference how smart their trainer is.

I think 'difficult to train' horses are horses that have a lot more inherent 'resistance' and a lot more 'push-back' instead of yield.

I do not think horses are very intelligent compared to many other mammals. I think I would rank dogs and cats near the top of the scale below primates and possibly sea mammals. [Cats just don't respond to training as well.] I would place pigs (verrry smart) at the top of the hoofed animals, then bison (it is very difficult to pen bison in the same trap twice), some breeds of cattle ( mostly those with Brahman blood -- a little 'ear'), then donkeys and mules well above horses in that order. There are ways that you can determine intelligent reasoning apart from training. [As I said before, I think training is much more dependent on how easily intimidated and willing a horse is to yield to pressure.]

One of the ways I have used to determine intelligence is to put feed in a pan in a pen. I will tie the horse or have someone hold him on one side of the pen. Then, I set the pan on the ground right in front of him. I will exit a gate on the opposite side of the pen. If he is smart, he will walk around the pen and go right through the gate I exited and walk straight to the feed. Donkeys will usually 'get it' first, then mules and then smart horses. Anyone that has successfully trained donkeys or mules will testify how smart they are compared to a horse. I have had horses that stood there and looked at the feed for hours. I finally latched the gate and got another horse. I had a really nice kids' horse that had worked in a feedlot for several years. He was 'broke to death'. It literally took him at least 30 minutes to walk over to the gate and go in when I set the pan about 10 feet down the fence from the gate. I walked out the gate with him watching me. The next day, it still took him 4 or 5 minutes. He was one that never found the gate when it was on the other side of the pen.

When I ride a horse and ask it to 'stop' some place and the next time we go to that same place and the horse tries to stop on its own, I know the horse is smart. These will be the same horses that do not take very long to find the gate on the pen. They figure out how to open gates, how to turn on the water, how to get into the feed bin, all kinds of nifty things that require actual intelligence.

When I was still buying prospects (instead of raising them), I did not care about their intelligence. I would push on a barely halter-broke horse's nose to see if he would try to push back at me or would step back away from me. I would push on a horse's shoulder and see if he switched his tail, shook his head and acted irritated or just stepped over. Little things like that told me what I wanted to know about 'trainability'. The horse's breeding and his quality of movement told more about his ability and natural instincts like 'cow', right amount of knee action, good hock use, etc. Five minutes to evaluate his conformation, five minutes in a round pen, five minutes to look at his papers and five minutes to 'push' him around told me all I needed to know. I paid a lot of attention to the close relatives of a prospect. Horses rarely train or perform better than they are bred to.

Horses are very thin skinned and sensitive. They have been selectively bred for gentleness, ability and trainability. Gentleness and ability mean very little unless they LIKE to yield to pressure instead of resisting it.

A World Champion reining horse trainer and I were had a conversation one day about intelligence. We both agreed that very intelligent horses learned SOME things more quickly, but they also anticipate and try to get ahead of you even when they are very trainable. He said he had a horse he was showing at the that time that had memorized 9 of 12 reining patterns. By the time they moved out of the second maneuver of a pattern, the horse knew what was coming next and tried to go there. He NEVER rode any patterns at any time other than in competition.

Some very intelligent horses are really easy to train but can be pretty hard to keep 'honest'. Some not-so-smart horses are also easy to train because they respond very well to pressure and release of it, but, they stay honest a lot easier. Some slow minded horses (the ones we say are 'dumber than a box of rocks') are also 'decent' to train. It is more difficult to teach them real complicated things, but trainability is still more related to how much 'push-back' resistance they have in them.

I have found that the most difficult horses are those that are smart and very unwilling to yield to pressure. There are some horses of some specific bloodlines that hate to give to pressure. This 'resistance' is only compounded if they are smart. If you figure out a way to get them to do something one day, they have figured out a way to NOT do it the next. [We say they wake up in a new world every morning.] These horses are bred for halter showing or some other 'use' (that is not actually useful) and they cannot live long enough to be trained into pleasant 'user-friendly' useful horses. Can they be trained? Maybe? Probably, if you take enough time -- measured in years -- but then they will outsmart their owners. Good riders don't want them and poor riders CAN'T use them. Smart trainers would rather train 5 or 6 'nice' trainable prospects in less time and with less trouble than beating your head on a post trying to train one horse that is not real 'trainable'.

On a different note, I think horses have a memory second to none -- maybe elephants. I've had horses that remembered things and reacted to a place or thing many years after an incident. I find this behavior the 'norm' for them and not exceptional. If they 'accidentally' do something, they will nearly always repeat the behavior that had a 'pay-off'. This is the reason that horses get so spoiled so quickly. They are not smart enough to 'figure out' the behavior. They just naturally 'capitalize' of what they connect with the release of pressure.
     
    03-03-2012, 12:57 AM
  #26
Yearling
Good thread. I think they're smart enough to survive. Much of what I have to say is common knowledge.

The first time a horse gets a foot in a fence or rope, they'll fight. This is aggravating to humans because their horse is fighting and it's dangerous, but in nature it works because most vines they'd get wrapped in will be broken from an explosive horse fit. I think a horse almost has to have a fight or flight instinct. They don't have hands to grab anything so they have to stomp it, overpower it, or outrun it. So we as humans have to desensitize horses and also teach them to give to pressure when we put them in man-made surroundings.

I can cause any kid horse or dude horse buck, kick, and bite at a person because I've experimented and fooled with different temperaments a lot. It's just in all of them. Just hidden deeper in some. I had a guy tell me a few weeks ago that he was buying some breeding stock of a breed of horses that doesn't bite or kick. I told him I'm glad for him. Of course most people know that's not going to happen because how would the breeding stallion control a herd? How would a mare discipline foals? Well needless to say he's been bitten and kicked all within a two week period.

Ill add that horses do have incredible memories. They can memorize drill team patterns and reining patterns great. My pickup horses know the tendencies of every bucking bull and horse that we work. Because they see them over and over, they know them better than I do, I can guarantee that. I can sit in the arena and if there's a bull that always has to be roped and led out, my horses will start that way before I even know we need to go
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    03-03-2012, 09:40 AM
  #27
Weanling
Quote:
Originally Posted by AmazinCaucasian    
Well needless to say he's been bitten and kicked all within a two week period.

LOL. Sorry, that is just seriously funny. Even a person who has amazing etiquette will bite and kick if attacked! Goodness! I don't think we could possible breed out basic survival intelligence, AND, if we could, I think it is ethically wrong to do so! People, for being really smart, can be really silly!!
     
    03-03-2012, 10:17 AM
  #28
Trained
This is just my experience, but I have always noticed that the horses who are a little less smart take longer to learn something. But once they learn something, they really know it and will do it every time you ask. A smarter type horse will learn it right away, but test it more and not necessarily do it every time. I used to have a great QH gelding who was the less smart type. With his training it always seemed like he wasnt getting something at all the first few days. Then one day I would take him out and he had it down pat.
     
    03-03-2012, 09:54 PM
  #29
Trained
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cherie    
I said I would weigh in with my opinion on the subject. Let me start by saying that I think intelligence requires reasoning. I think we, as trainers and care-givers, need to know the difference between instincts and 'hard-wired' behaviors and intelligent reasoning.

I believe a horse is hard-wired to be a 'herd animal' and a 'flight animal'. I believe that these two natural instincts are something that we have to work constantly -- forever -- to control. While individual dispositions and natural inclinations (like being more 'flighty' and 'spooky' or more settled and easy going) have a great influence on this, the basic flight and herd instincts are just that -- hard wired instincts.

I think that 'willingness and trainability' are the traits that make horses easier or more difficult to train. These are 'X factors' that are impossible to measure, but any top event trainer will tell you that they will take willingness and trainability way before ability.

^I agree, love this comment.

Over the years, I have tried to set up circumstances that would actually reflect intelligence rather than naturally occurring instincts or willingness. I have been around many different kinds of horses, donkeys, mules, cattle, sheep, goats and hogs. We have had bison for many years and have been around a myriad of dogs and cats. I have trained many cattle and trained one to ride and rode her quite a bit. [I used to carry a shovel and ride her out in the fields to change irrigation water.] I also had a bottle raised bison that was semi-trained to ride. Sold him to Charlie Battles (Reba McIntire's first husband) to finish training to make a rodeo act out of -- He didn't!

I, personally, do not think that intelligence plays a very big part in how trainable a horse is. I think the main quality that allows them to be trained is their willingness to yield to pressure -- the ease by which they are intimidated by pressure and their desire to do whatever it takes to get that pressure to go away. I think it makes a lot MORE difference how smart their trainer is.

I think 'difficult to train' horses are horses that have a lot more inherent 'resistance' and a lot more 'push-back' instead of yield.
^I think this concept is what we interpret as intelligence.

I do not think horses are very intelligent compared to many other mammals. I think I would rank dogs and cats near the top of the scale below primates and possibly sea mammals. [Cats just don't respond to training as well.] I would place pigs (verrry smart) at the top of the hoofed animals, then bison (it is very difficult to pen bison in the same trap twice), some breeds of cattle ( mostly those with Brahman blood -- a little 'ear'), then donkeys and mules well above horses in that order. There are ways that you can determine intelligent reasoning apart from training. [As I said before, I think training is much more dependent on how easily intimidated and willing a horse is to yield to pressure.]

I have no experience training pigs, but yes mules, donkeys, dogs are "intelligent". I agree the breed of cattle makes a difference. Along with you have noticed "eared" cattle are the smartest. I love Mexican cattle...
We have a tendency to train cattle like horses, pressure and release. And when given the chance they will try to bluff and dominate like a horse. With proper training we can hold several hundred pair of cows up in a corner with a couple of people horseback and work out pairs. If a cow decides to break out she is "put to work" like you would a horse. She is taken out on a circle at a high lope, when she decides to look back at the herd the pressure is taken off. She heads back to the herd and usually doesn't try it again. They have the same learning/trainabilty as a horse in my opinion.


One of the ways I have used to determine intelligence is to put feed in a pan in a pen. I will tie the horse or have someone hold him on one side of the pen. Then, I set the pan on the ground right in front of him. I will exit a gate on the opposite side of the pen. If he is smart, he will walk around the pen and go right through the gate I exited and walk straight to the feed. Donkeys will usually 'get it' first, then mules and then smart horses. Anyone that has successfully trained donkeys or mules will testify how smart they are compared to a horse. I have had horses that stood there and looked at the feed for hours. I finally latched the gate and got another horse. I had a really nice kids' horse that had worked in a feedlot for several years. He was 'broke to death'. It literally took him at least 30 minutes to walk over to the gate and go in when I set the pan about 10 feet down the fence from the gate. I walked out the gate with him watching me. The next day, it still took him 4 or 5 minutes. He was one that never found the gate when it was on the other side of the pen.

When I ride a horse and ask it to 'stop' some place and the next time we go to that same place and the horse tries to stop on its own, I know the horse is smart. These will be the same horses that do not take very long to find the gate on the pen. They figure out how to open gates, how to turn on the water, how to get into the feed bin, all kinds of nifty things that require actual intelligence.

When I was still buying prospects (instead of raising them), I did not care about their intelligence. I would push on a barely halter-broke horse's nose to see if he would try to push back at me or would step back away from me. I would push on a horse's shoulder and see if he switched his tail, shook his head and acted irritated or just stepped over. Little things like that told me what I wanted to know about 'trainability'. The horse's breeding and his quality of movement told more about his ability and natural instincts like 'cow', right amount of knee action, good hock use, etc. Five minutes to evaluate his conformation, five minutes in a round pen, five minutes to look at his papers and five minutes to 'push' him around told me all I needed to know. I paid a lot of attention to the close relatives of a prospect. Horses rarely train or perform better than they are bred to.

Horses are very thin skinned and sensitive. They have been selectively bred for gentleness, ability and trainability. Gentleness and ability mean very little unless they LIKE to yield to pressure instead of resisting it.

A World Champion reining horse trainer and I were had a conversation one day about intelligence. We both agreed that very intelligent horses learned SOME things more quickly, but they also anticipate and try to get ahead of you even when they are very trainable. He said he had a horse he was showing at the that time that had memorized 9 of 12 reining patterns. By the time they moved out of the second maneuver of a pattern, the horse knew what was coming next and tried to go there. He NEVER rode any patterns at any time other than in competition.

Some very intelligent horses are really easy to train but can be pretty hard to keep 'honest'. Some not-so-smart horses are also easy to train because they respond very well to pressure and release of it, but, they stay honest a lot easier. Some slow minded horses (the ones we say are 'dumber than a box of rocks') are also 'decent' to train. It is more difficult to teach them real complicated things, but trainability is still more related to how much 'push-back' resistance they have in them.
^I agree

I have found that the most difficult horses are those that are smart and very unwilling to yield to pressure. There are some horses of some specific bloodlines that hate to give to pressure. This 'resistance' is only compounded if they are smart. If you figure out a way to get them to do something one day, they have figured out a way to NOT do it the next. [We say they wake up in a new world every morning.] These horses are bred for halter showing or some other 'use' (that is not actually useful) and they cannot live long enough to be trained into pleasant 'user-friendly' useful horses. Can they be trained? Maybe? Probably, if you take enough time -- measured in years -- but then they will outsmart their owners. Good riders don't want them and poor riders CAN'T use them. Smart trainers would rather train 5 or 6 'nice' trainable prospects in less time and with less trouble than beating your head on a post trying to train one horse that is not real 'trainable'.
^^ yes, just dealt with this! I found this very frustrating because I knew the mare was smart....just not willing...

On a different note, I think horses have a memory second to none -- maybe elephants. I've had horses that remembered things and reacted to a place or thing many years after an incident. I find this behavior the 'norm' for them and not exceptional. If they 'accidentally' do something, they will nearly always repeat the behavior that had a 'pay-off'. This is the reason that horses get so spoiled so quickly. They are not smart enough to 'figure out' the behavior. They just naturally 'capitalize' of what they connect with the release of pressure.
^^It makes it that much easier to get the wrong result due to our(humans) way of thinking!
     
    03-04-2012, 06:17 AM
  #30
Trained
We'll certainly never know how 'smart' horses (or any other animal) really are, but I know one thing...in the summer when the sun is blazing, it's 95 degrees and 90% humidy, and I'm out working and sweating, the mares are all standing under a nice, shady tree calling me an idiot.
     

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