Are Horses Smarter Than Dogs?

How Smart Are Horses Compared to Dogs?

Both dogs and horses have been domesticated for thousands of years; both species have excelled in many areas of training that require skill and expertise. That being said, dogs tend to hold the place as the animals superior in mental capacity. If you plan on getting a horse or you already own a horse, you probably know that horses can be smart as well.

Are horses smarter than dogs? Since dogs are predatorial animals and horses are prey animals, their instinctual response will be different depending on the situation; however, horses are proven to recognize and respond to emotions and also be easily trained in many different methods and disciplines. 

Since animals can’t speak, it can be difficult to understand how much they comprehend and understand. In this article, I’ll share the difference between the abilities of dogs and horses as well as some of the easiest ways to train your horse.

The Difference Between Dogs and Horses

One reason people may think horses aren’t as intelligent as dogs are that horses can be easily spooked and go into flight mode. At this point, their natural instinct isn’t to think through the process but rather to get as far away from danger as possible. On the other hand, dogs will go into a natural instinct to chase rather than thinking through a process and listening to their handler. Horses are prey animals and dogs are predators; this fact is the sole reason it can be difficult to determine whether a horse is smarter than a dog.

Dogs Are Predatorial Animals

As predatorial animals, it’s a dog’s natural instinct to hunt and chase. Their natural instinct is to chase something that is running from them. Dogs have binocular vision, meaning they have eyes on the front of their head which enables them to hone in on prey. They also have sharp teeth for ripping flesh and padded paws with long nails to grip their prey as they eat.

Dogs often seem more loyal and protective of their owners than horses. One reason for this that according to history, dogs have been domesticated much longer than horses. Dogs will also willingly defend themselves and their “pack” from danger by standing their ground and even attacking.

Horses Are Prey Animals

As prey animals, it’s a horse’s natural instinct to flee from danger. Their natural instinct is to run far away from anything that may pose a threat. Horses are designed to notice and escape danger. They have monocular vision, with eyes on the side of their head that enable them to see almost 360° around. Horses have incredible hearing and smell that will let them sense the first sign of danger. Horses are known to run as fast as 40 mph so they can outrun most predators.

One characteristic of prey animals is that they live in community settings; horses often live with other horses in a herd. Living in a herd provides extra security and protection from predators. Because of this, horses feel most comfortable around other horses; most horses require at least one equine companion to give them peace of mind. That being said, horses can still bond deeply with humans and look forward to human interaction. To learn more about horses’ relationships with humans, check out my article Do Horses Like Humans? Here’s What You Need to Know.

How Smart Are Horses?

So how smart are horses? Horses are known to display, recognize, and understand advanced emotions. They also learn easily and can retain information for their entire lives. Horses can even be trained to think past their instincts and to problem solve in certain situations. The more I learn and train horses, I see that they are much smarter than I originally realized. Here are some of the ways that I’ve seen horses display their superior knowledge and ability:

Horses Can Recognize Emotion and Tone

Studies have shown that horses can recognize and understand emotion and tone. I know that my own horse can immediately recognize my tone when I tell him not to do something because he’ll cheekily stop and look the other way 😂  . When it comes to training, horses may often reflect the emotions they pick up from their handlers. If a horse is sensing that you’re nervous, the horse may become anxious and nervous as well. This is why controlling your emotions is so important when it comes to working with horses.

Horses Can Associates Words

Just like dogs can learn to sit, stay, and lay down, horses can too! Horses are able to associate words with certain actions. While they don’t speak in words, they can definitely understand certain terms. Voice commands are a great thing to teach your horse. I try and teach all my horses to associate the words walk, trot, and canter with the specific gait. I’ve also taught my horse, Tucker to “come here,” “back up,” and “look.”

Horses Can Learn Rhythm

Believe it or not, but horses can recognize and learn rhythm. Oftentimes, horses will feel the rhythm of the rider’s seat and will then change their speed or stride to match the rhythm of the seat. This is why learning to ride with your seat is so important. When ridden frequently and correctly enough, horses can even learn to hold a steady rhythm at each gait.

Horses Can Be Trained Out of Their Instincts

Horses have been domesticated for thousands of years; however, they can still be flighty and uncertain due to their natural behavior as prey animals. When trained correctly and patiently, horses can learn to think past the natural instinct to flee and trust their handler that they are safe. This type of training is known as desensitizing; by desensitizing, you teach your horse to be confident around things they would normally be afraid of.

Want to know more about how to desensitize your horse? Check out my article Bombproof and Desensitize a Horse: The Ultimate Guide. This article will share certain methods and techniques you can use to get your horse used to things they may be afraid of.

Horses Can Learn How to Properly Engage Muscle

Did you know that horses can learn how to properly carry themselves and use their muscles? As muscles are built and developed, horses can learn to use them properly to make it easier to carry a rider and propel themselves forward. Advanced dressage horses and reining horses are just two examples of how horses can be trained to carry themselves a certain way. 

I’ve even seen where a horse was taught to engage its core muscles by voice command. The handler would say a command and the horse would raise its back and tighten its core muscles. While this is doable with any horse, please remember that building muscle takes time and should be done gradually to ensure your horse’s health and safety.

Horses Can Retain Information

Horses can remember and retain information over the course of their entire lives. We once rescued a horse that hadn’t had human contact for at least 5 years, but the horse easily accepted us as if it had been around humans its whole life. Horses can retain commands, relationships, training, and even certain experience outcomes for years to come. If you ever worry that your horse won’t remember you after you’ve gone on vacation, don’t worry. Your horse will remember you for quite a long time! 

Horses Can Learn Advanced Tricks

Over the many years I’ve spent obsessed with horses, I can tell you that horses can be trained to do some crazy and impressive things! I’ve read about a horse that was trained to jump from insanely tall heights and dive into a pool down below. I’ve seen horses trained to balance their feet on four different ladders and climb the way to the top rungs. I personally believe you can train a horse to do anything as long as you have sound training methods and a clear understanding of how to communicate with your horse.

If you’re looking for a fun trick to teach your horse, check out my article How to Teach a Horse to Lay Down: Step-By-Step Guide.


Oftentimes, there’s nothing that completes a horse farm quite like a barn dog. Being able to ride your horse on the trail while your dog follows belong is a fun way to enjoy the presence of your animals. If you want to experience this enjoyment, check out my article How to Safely Horseback Ride With Dogs.


P.S. Save this to your “Horse” board!

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Carmella Abel, Pro Horse Trainer

Hi! I’m Carmella

My husband and I started Equine Helper to share what we’ve learned about owning and caring for horses. I’ve spent my whole life around horses, and I currently own a POA named Tucker. You can learn more here.

Thank you for reading, and happy trails!

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