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By guest author Michael Dehaan, founder of Best Horse Rider.

How Smart Are Horses?

For thousands of years, man has used horses for transportation, work, and companionship.

A Paint horse with a young lady

They have played an important role throughout history and today they are still our trusty partners. They are able to learn different cues and commands, but just how smart are horses?

Intelligence Levels of Horses

Any horse owner will tell you that their horse can express different emotions. They have the ability to learn and maintain different commands, cues, and tricks. Many horse owners will even claim that their horse has a unique personality.

Since every animal species is unique in their own ways, it can be difficult to compare intelligence levels. However, there are some key traits that can help show us how intelligent horses are.

They Have the Ability to Recognize Human Emotions

In addition to having their own emotions, horses are also capable of reading our emotions. Researchers have found that horses are able to tell the differences between positive and negative facial expressions in people.

When horses saw someone that was angry, they would look with their left eye and their heart rate would increase. Input from the left eye is sent to the right side where the brain processes negative stimuli.

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They Are Able To Communicate With Us

Horses don’t need to use words in order to communicate with us. In addition to body language, they are able to interact with us through recognizing objects.

In 2016, Norwegian researchers conducted a study with 23 horses on wearing a blanket or not. The horses were shown different boards with painted symbols representing “put a blanket on”, “take blanket off” and “no change”. After teaching horses to associate the different symbols with different actions, they allowed the horses to make their own choices.

On a warm, sunny day, ten of the horses wearing blankets were presented with the three different symbols and all ten chose the blanket off option. When given the option in wet, cool weather, the horses would select to have their blankets on.

A woman's hand petting a horse

They Are Able to Connect Voices to Faces

It has been well known for a while that horses are able to recognize people. However, scientists have recently found that horses can connect a recording of their owner’s voice to their faces. When a horse has bonded with someone they can recognize you from your voice before they see you.

They Learn Through Conditioning and Can Ask For Help

Horses are very talented in the fact they can learn the many cues and commands it takes to ride and drive. However, their skills can go much further than that. Horses have been able to learn different tricks and even the ability to count and spell through conditioning.

The famous horse Jim Key, born in 1889, was able to read, write and do basic math among many other tricks. In addition to being able to learn new skills, horses are also able to ask for help. They have been known to look, touch and push their owners when they are seeking something, such as getting treats from one’s pocket.

Straight From a Horse’s Mouth

Though horses can’t talk to us, there are other ways they have learned to communicate with us. Though there is no scale to measure their intelligence, it has become apparent that horses are quite smart. They are able to learn skills, read emotions, recognize voices and seek out help.

This article was contributed by guest author Michael Dehaan and is being used with permission.

About The Author

Michael Dehaan is founder and editor in chief at Best Horse Rider. When he is not in his stable grooming his gentle mares and fierce stallions, he is riding across the fields and meadows near his home in Oklahoma. Michael has been working with horses all his life, acquiring rich experience and professional insights which he happily shares with other fellow equestrians.


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