Horses are incredible animals that can learn tricks, commands, cues, complex patterns, and they can even read emotions. They are eager to learn, social, and have amazing personalities. But what makes a particular horse one of the “smartest horses”?
Each individual horse is unique, with their own special skills and abilities. However, there are many types of horses that are known for their ability to learn quickly, their amazing memories, and their excellent emotional intelligence. In this article, we will look at 10 of the smartest horses in the world and discuss their skills and what makes them so special.
Measuring a Horse’s Intelligence
It is no secret that these incredible animals are smart, but just how smart are they? Well, that is a question that scientists are continually working to answer. Since horses cannot talk as humans do, it’s hard to truly know what and how they think. However, there are many abilities that we can look at.
For example, many horses have been known to play hide and seek, show approval and affection to humans, play fetch, discern patterns, and recognize themselves in a mirror. Some horse breeds are known for learning faster than others and can retain that information for many years. Other breeds demonstrate an exceptional emotional intelligence, with an outstanding ability to read human body language.
In fact, studies have shown that horses can distinguish human emotions based on our facial expressions and body language. Although they do it best with humans they are bonded with, horses can even read the body language of a human they’ve never even met! In addition, horses expertly collaborate with humans, often asking for help when they are in trouble. Horses have even been observed seeking out willow stems to alleviate pain (willow stems contain salicylic acid, which we use to make aspirin).
As you can see, horses are extremely intelligent animals! But which horses are the smartest? Let’s take a closer look at the 10 smartest horses!
No equine list could be complete without the Arabian Horse. This horse is one of the oldest and most famous breeds in the world. Arabian horses have a beautiful and distinguished appearance, reaching 14–15.2 hands tall and weighing around 800–1,000 pounds. These horses come in many different colors, although you will most commonly see gray, black, chestnut, or bay-colored Arabians.
As one of the most versatile horse breeds in the world, Arabian horses are highly trainable and excel in just about every discipline. Studies have even shown that Arabian horses can discriminate between complex patterns, and they might be able to form and use concepts to solve problems. In addition, Arabian horses are gentle and have incredible stamina and endurance, making them excellent horses for riding, training, show rings, and families.
Standing 15–16 hands tall and weighing 900–1,200 pounds, the Andalusian is a strong horse with a compact and athletic body. These horses are intelligent and easy to train, with brave spirits and bold personalities. Andalusian horses are curious, eager to learn, and are often trained for obstacle jumping and endurance racing. They are beautiful and stylish riding horses, and have been used for bullfighting, working with livestock, classical riding, and often develop tight bonds with their trainers.
The Friesian (or Frizian) horse is an old breed that dates back to the Middle Ages. These powerful and stunning animals are large and strong, and yet they are incredibly graceful and nimble on their feet. Friesian horses are 15.2–17.3 hands tall and weigh 1,200–1,400 pounds, with beautiful black coats and long flowing manes. They are often used in movies because of their powerful and dignified appearance, and because they are incredibly intelligent and quick to train. These majestic horses are known for their diligence and willingness to work, as well as their adaptability and gracefulness.
One of the very first official “American” horse breeds is the Morgan horse, which is not only intelligent, but also gentle, loyal, and friendly. Morgan horses stand 14–16 hands tall and weigh 800–1,000 pounds. These horses are usually chestnut, bay, or black and have muscular bodies with chiseled heads.
Morgan horses are incredibly adaptable and versatile, and have been used for pulling coaches, racing, competition in the show ring, and even battles during the American Civil War. Although they are a bit picky when it comes to “choosing their human,” they are loyal and form strong bonds with their owners. As quick learners that are eager to please, these calm and steady horses are also common in therapeutic riding programs.
Although their large and powerful presence may seem a bit intimidating at first, Clydesdale horses are well-mannered and gentle. These giant horses stand 17–19 hands tall and weigh an astounding 1,700–2,200 pounds! Clydesdales are intelligent horses that come from the River Clyde (or Clydesdale) in Scotland, and were originally used for hauling heavy loads due to their immense strength and durability.
Today, however, you can see these beautiful horses working the fields as well as showing off in parades. They are a popular choice for such activities due to their strength, but also because of their high trainability, intelligence, and calm demeanor. In fact, you might recognize them pulling Budweiser wagons or in Budweiser commercials on television. Affectionately referred to as the “gentle giants” of the horse world, Clydesdales are smart, affectionate, and responsible horses that care for themselves as well as their owners.
One of the most famous racing horse breeds is the thoroughbred. These fast-moving horses are athletic, with slim bodies that are often gray, black, chestnut, or bay. They stand 15–17 hands tall and weigh 900–1,150 pounds. While other breeds, like quarter horses, are usually faster at the starting line of a race, thoroughbreds have much more stamina and speed when it comes to endurance racing.
Thoroughbreds are known for their high-spirited nature and can be quite hot-blooded at times. That is because these horses are extremely intelligent as well as sensitive, with an ambitious nature that is unrivaled in the horse world. They are clever horses that excel in discipline, hard work, and are quick to recover from accidents and move forward.
7. Gypsy Vanner or Irish Cob
One of the smartest and gentlest horses in the world is the Gypsy Vanner or Irish Cob horse. These stunning horses came from the British Isles and were bred by Romanichal Travellers who needed strong and trainable horses to pull their caravans. Gypsy horses are smaller than many of the breeds on this list, standing only 12.2–16 hands tall. However, they weigh 1,000–1,700 pounds and have strong and powerful bodies.
In addition to their strength, gypsy horses are also gorgeous horses with long, flowing manes, tails, and iconic feathering on their legs. Although some are solid in color, more often they are skewbald (white and brown), or piebald (white and black). Gypsy Vanners are popular horses due to their strength, beauty, and intelligence. In more recent years, they have become popular in equine therapy because they are smart, easy to train, loyal, friendly, easy-going, and bond easily with humans.
One of the most unique-looking horses is the Appaloosa. These horses are famous for their leopard-spotted patterns and are one of the most popular horse breeds in the United States. They were even declared the state horse of Idaho in 1975. Appaloosa horses stand 14.2–16 hands tall and weigh 950–1,250 pounds. They are excellent jumpers and rarely get sick.
In addition to their beautifully spotted coats, Appaloosa horses are highly intelligent and playful. Because of this, they do best with experienced riders, although they are known for being gentle and trustworthy as well.
The Hanoverian is another older horse breed and comes from Germany. This horse was bred for farmers with limited resources who needed versatile, trainable horses. Hanoverians are the perfect fit, as they are very calm and love to work. These horses are strong with robust and muscular bodies. They are 16 hands tall on average and weigh between 750–1,100 pounds. They are extremely talented horses that are attentive and respond quickly to training. Hanoverians are also calm and can easily transition from one activity to the next. They learn quickly and can apply their new knowledge almost immediately.
Hanoverian horses are compassionate, patient horses that are extremely social. They like activity and can get bored easily. Due to their propensity to boredom and their high levels of intelligence, they can become troublemakers if they are not challenged enough. If they get bored, these horses will find new ways to entertain themselves, such as figuring out locks and latches, or looking for weaknesses in fences.
10. Marwari Horse
The last horse on this list is not a very common one. Due to poor management practices, the Marwari horse breed deteriorated somewhat in the 1930s. In recent years, however, these horses are making a comeback due to their hardiness and intelligence. In fact, French rider Philippe Perrier claims that Marawi horses are “more intelligent than any other breed in the world”—and he should know a thing or two about horses, since he’s been riding for over 80 years!
Marwari horses come from the Marwar or Jodhpur region of Rajasthan in India, originating during the 12th century. These rare horses are highly intelligent, trainable, quick to learn, and friendly, making them ideal companions. For much of their history they were used as cavalry horses due to their bravery and loyalty, even in the midst of battle.
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Specifically, my research investigates how the configuration and composition of landscapes influence the movement and population dynamics of forest birds. Both natural and human-derived fragmenting of habitat can influence where birds settle, how they access the resources they need to survive and reproduce, and these factors in turn affect population demographics. Most recently, I have been studying the ability of individuals to move through and utilize forested areas which have been modified through timber harvest as they seek out resources for the breeding and postfledging phases. As well I am working in collaboration with Parks Canada scientists to examine in the influence of high density moose populations on forest bird communities in Gros Morne National Park. Many of my projects are conducted in collaboration or consultation with representatives of industry and government agencies, seeking to improve the management and sustainability of natural resource extraction.