Is your horse cleverer than you think? New research suggests we might have been underestimating our horses’ brainpower.

Researchers from the University of Pisa, Italy, have found that horses can read human actions and change the way they respond.

In a study recently published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 24 horses were trained to overturn a bucket to find a carrot hidden under it.

The horses were then split into two groups — those in the first had to find the carrot under one of three buckets after watching a person hide it; those in the second were left to their own devices.

The study was designed to “analyse the ability of horses to understand, remember and use human-given cues in a delayed (10 seconds) three-choice task”.

The first group of horses more frequently found the carrot on a first attempt, although they took more time to do so. When the test was repeated without either group of horses seeing the carrots being hidden, the first group was less accurate at finding the carrot on the first attempt, but found it faster.

They initially returned to the buckets under which they had seen human place the carrot, suggesting they can remember where the food was hidden.

“Our findings indicate that horses are capable of remembering the location of food hidden by the experimenter after a delay,” states the study. “The same horses are also capable of changing their decision-making strategy by shifting from the accuracy inferred from human-given cues, to speed.”

Horses therefore can choose to use human cues or not — depending on time, cost, experience and reward.

H&H vet Karen Coumbe said this was “very interesting work, which merits further investigation”.

“My feeling is that ponies in particular are more intelligent than many larger horses, and are much more knowing than many people would think,” she added.

Ref: H&H 9 April, 2015

  • Liz Crawford

    I don’t think horses are more intelligent than you think, I KNOW THEY ARE, THEY
    KNOW YOUR MIND BEFORE YOU DO, THE TIME, WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO
    DO NEXT, THEY SHOULD ONLY BE TREATED WITH LOVE & RESPECT,
    I FIND THEY WILL DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, GIVING ENDLESS PLEASURE,
    THEY ARE CLEVER , WISE & HIGHLY INTELLIGENT, MORE THAN MOST PEOPLE ! THEY CARRY US SAFELY , WITHOUT COMPLAINT, WE SHOULD
    ALL TAKE A LEAF FROM THEIR LIVES, THE MOST NOBLE & BEAUTIFUL
    OF CREATURES, THERE ARE ONLY STUPID PEOPLE- NOT HORSES/PONIES.

  • David Morgan-Davies

    The clever horse is the one who when set an inteligence testmakes a mess of it.Intelligence in the horse is on a diiferent level from other animals.most horses are plain stupid.Inteligence in the big grazing animals serves no purpose.They eat sleep and mate in the wild,it takes all their time.In the New Forest I noticed a gelding running with a herd with it’s stallion, normally the gelding would be expelled from the herd.not here the gelding knew how to open all the gates so the ponies could be more than a mild nuisance getting into where they were not wanted.Is that inteligence or not?The herd exploited the inteligence of an outsider. What is Hovis’s opinion?!