Equine Intelligence

Blondemare (aka Broodmare) recently wrote:

Had an interesting (good spirited disagreement) conversation with my vet this morning about what qualifies an intelligent horse and I’ve been mulling it over since he left.  I had raised the point in direct correlation to breeds, specifically Arabians.  He stated that Arabians can be a more difficult horse to work with, have a tendency to not tolerate even a rectal temperature check without a fight.  He also stated that they require more sedatives on average to quiet them to a workable sense of consciousness for certain procedures.  His take on the breed is that they are so intelligent that they sense danger more quickly than other horses.  I respectfully disagreed.  My thought is that behavior makes them over-reactive and flighty, that they rely on their flight mechanism every time something new, noisy, moving is encountered.  No curiosity to the stimuli, only a fear reaction and wanting to escape the object/sound as quickly as possible.  I find an intelligent horse to be one that processes information; one that thinks before running blindly into serious danger over a perceived threat.

I’ll use an example of a wooden ‘bridge’ I use to teach horses to accept the sounds of hooves on a noisy object, to prepare them for trailer loading and how to step up and down from an object.  I use this bridge for all youngsters once they are lunging quietly; moving forward readily from a go cue, willingly spiraling out and away from me, whoaing and reversing from my body position. 

I will approach the bridge and allow a thorough sniff-over, as long as it takes.  After a good sniff, and in the case of many geldings, a paw or two may be used to test authenticity.  After this, I’ll apply the go forward cue and most responses are hesitance, looking for a way around (I block away with the line, toward me with my body/energy, back with a whip or the line and only the front door is open), another good sniff and a half-hearted jump….next loop around I’ll get a foot on it and by the 3rd or 4th loop, most horses will give a good effort and put all fours on, looking quite proud of themselves I might add.  Stop, reward, stand, repeat. 

I present the challenge, tools in place, and ask the horse to make a decision – avoid fearful object and receive a correction or process information and apply it.  I feel that when a horse applies the combination of aids, he is attentive, learning and responding to the education presented.  Using thought and making a rational decision.  Now enter Arab, given the same choices, the first decision when presented to the bridge is to jump into my space nearly knocking me down, and attempt to run off with tail in the air, eyes bulging out of the sockets, and no notable thought process.  Second attempt is similar to the first though I’m ready and apply pressure via the lunge line firmly to the belly followed by a quick halt.  Fleeing and knocking me to the ground, not acceptable options. 

So….the process continues, 10 minutes later we are on loop 30? 40? doing what I asked, somewhat, which is getting over the bridge, but without contact.  We are still in trot/jump mode.  It’s like the 300th rerun of Pretty Woman, nice to watch but it gets old.  A few more minutes, trot turns to walk, and an occasional hind hoof touches wood, horse is relaxing somewhat.  Change directions, get one hoof on, quit for the day.  Repeat again on day two, slightly less drama, still only 1-2 hooves on wood at any given trip around, though no longer attempting to flatten me.  Quit.  Day 3, 5 minutes, four hooves on. Stop, reward, rest, breathe.  We got it done.

So I ask.  Is the Arab smarter than a stock horse because he’s fearful and reactive to everything in his environment?  Or is the horse that succeeds 20 times faster utilizing a process of thought the smarter individual?  Me?  I’ll take the thinker any day.  I want a horse I can trust to take care of me, a horse that won’t over-react to a silly, nonsensical perceived threat and put my and his life in danger.  I want a horse that has try, which lets me into his world, respects me and trusts me not to hurt him. 

I’ve heard it said time and time again at various events from the Arab community that Arabians are the most intelligent breed of horse.  They also state that you can’t do (enter request) with an Arabian because they won’t tolerate it as they are soooo smart.  So I say to you, tell me why this is?  Tell me why a horse that is flighty and willing to put himself in a precarious situation is smarter than my stock horse that removes snaps, opens latches, saunters to the grain room, opens a spin cap off the plastic cookie jug and has a feast of horse treats, without breaking the cap or the plastic jug. And when caught in action, comes right to me and offers a lip kiss across my cheek as in sucking up MAJORLY for being a bad girl.

So, what makes a smart horse and why?  Is it self-preservation?  Trainability?  Cooperation?  How do we give our horses a fair IQ test?

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71 thoughts on “Equine Intelligence

  1. I believe the Arab is very smart, but just not as easy as a stock horse. Once they get over their fear reaction, they have a great ability to learn and figure things out. They definitely are more reactive and alert to their environment. Is that being “dumb” ? My Arab is extremely curious and that can be used to train her to my advantage. She likes to explore things.
    I remember trail riding with some very trail experienced stock horses. An animal in a tree overhead startled them. While my arab stopped and was staring up at it, I looked around and the QH’s were in the next field! The calm, malleable “easy” animals had been taken by suprise and had exited stage right! The Arab had been gazing about and had not been frightened as she was well aware that something was there, long before it popped out. Depends what you want, and how you define intelligence. And on the different personalities within the breeds. Some of the most spun, silly animals I have ever met were Quarter Horses! And some of the nicest. Some of the most reliable riding horses I have ever met have been well trained Arabs.

  2. This is an interesting topic, but I think it’s easily broken down into two thoughts:

    1)Horse intelligence perceived by the horse world
    2)Horse intelligence perceived by the human world

    For a horse to thrive (and survive) in the wild and amongst its own kind requires a different set of traits then for a horse to thrive (and often survive) in a domesticated situation, often on its own and not in a herd. This I believe is really what your spirited disagreement hinges upon.

    A horse in the wild who is able to detect possible danger early on is depended upon by less astute individuals in the herd. This is an intelligent horse according to other herd members. That same horse in a domesticated situation, who detects danger around every corner; the stable blanket thrown on the barn floor, the new brightly colored feed tub, the pitchfork resting against the wall etc.. is a royal pain in the ass in the human world and most times given negative labels like over-reactive or stupid.

    On the other hand, I own a horse with less than zero equine social skills. He either tries to kill the other horse or he makes the other horse so angry that they want to kill him. There’s nothing in between. I’ve no doubt he’d parish in the wild left to his own devices. In a domesticated setting, though, he’s thrives. He’s not afraid to work hard, he’ll happily follow a noisy tractor, climb and stand on boulders if so directed (or whatever – I’ve even loaded him into one of those big metal dumpsters – and yes, he walked right in without hesitation the same way he climbed my porch steps and headed into the house), requires his stalls and paddocks be triple locked, will untie himself if left unattended for more than thirty seconds, etc…

    For the most part I believe the horses I have owned have been of above average intelligence, with the exception of one. I found her most annoying to train and often thought I was conversing with a brickwall. But when I think back about her, I realize that she was very smart in a horse way. She always got along with other horses. She recognized the bossy ones and submitted without issue and following them when needed, and she recognized submissive ones like herself and she became friends with them…safety in numbers. I also remember witnessing her foraging for very specific herbs in her pastures at very specific times of the year. She knew what to eat and when to eat it. That would have boded well for her in the wild.

    I’m the first one to admit I’m not particularly fond of Arabians. Indeed they are in my top-three list of least favorite breeds. I do, however, recognize their beauty and they possess some fantastic traits that make them extremely hardy, and they are the premiere breed in terms of stamina and endurance. I give them all the credit for those things.

    It’s been many years since I read an article on tested equine intelligence, but if I recall correctly, horses tested out at a 3? or 5? year old’s level in terms of ‘reasoning ability’. Now, I’m not a fan of children, but I’ve come across a few in that age range that were pretty astute and I remember being that age and having a really good grasp of right and wrong, as well as things like not to the touch the stove because I would get burned.

    Certainly horses have the capacity to learn and the capacity to adapt, while maintaining a personality and temperament unique to each. How smart they are perceived to be really depends on what view you take and what’s important to you.

    • It is good to differentiate what we mean by intellegance. My Arab is very clever in an equine equine social setting. As someone who boards and cannot control what horses are put in with her, I consider that a huge advantage. Though not a dominant animal, she can get at the hay and water, get in the shelter etc while avoiding injury. She works the herd and is highly aware of the social order. Some of the animals that lack equine social intellegance are a nightmare for owners and barn managers, unless individual stall and paddock keep is available and suitable. She has the capacity to bond with and co operate with her rider to a high degree- I guess it is the social skills that can be transferred easily to humans. I totally accept though, that she is not everyone’s cup of tea, and that is fine with me! We are not all the same and it is good that we have many horses to pick from.

      • Well, having bred Arabs for 15 years until I was no longer able to ride I can only say that it appears there are an awful lot of spoiled, badly trained Arabs around! Mine all walked over the rickety rackety bridge by the time they were weanlings and walked straight onto absolutely anything they were asked to. Backing them was a breeze and riding them was a blast. I had a waiting list. These were show/performance bred animals, and I would take one over any warmblood/working horse any day of any week. When I became very ill (the last time I actually rode properly) my mare turned herself black with sweat forcing herself to walk, all the way home, so I would not fall off.
        You just cannot beat an Arab, for brains and for understanding.

    • I’m going to let the Broodmare thing go…for now 🙂 I’m sure I would adore your socially inept gelding. He’s a thinker, easily bored, up for a challenge, my kind of horse. My little mare is a thinker, even when she’s afraid she moves forward, blows, ears nearly touching, hesitant steps but curious like a cat, she will try anything asked of her and has guts galore. She’s alpha mare in the herd and I attribute that to a high level of intelligence, she knows how to control other horses, she tests her riders, she would survive with or without me. She climbed a huge boulder, it was unbelievable to watch, she’ll cross a frozen stream one itty bitty step at a time, nose down with no fear. She is her mother’s daughter, the traits bred through – they are of one mind.

      I have a hard time accepting that a flight-filled horse is the more intelligent animal. Intelligence allows for decision making, evaluating a situation and acting appropriately. A horse that lives its life in constant fear isn’t the most rational and most likely has a poor leader as an owner. An overly reactive horse doesn’t make a strong herd leader in the wild. The alpha needs to be confident and make decisions on a continuous basis, not run the herd into the ground every time a rabbit pops out of a scrub brush. The best leaders are calm, cool and collected which affects the entire herd giving them confidence that they are safe. This is true of owners as well. Horses smell weakness a mile away.

      • Okay, but I didn’t say anything about fearful horses. I talked specifically of an animal who could detect possible danger. Sure, some horses see possible danger around every corner, but I didn’t say they made good leaders in their herd.

        The Arab in your example lacked self-confidence, didn’t believe you held a higher, protective position in the herd as the other horses and that’s why he/she chose to run over you. That’s also why it took considerably more time to convince said creature to stand on the bridge. The established relationship wasn’t the same and that could simply be because the Arab required more from you than the other horses. That may be true of Arabs in general.

        • “My” Arab is gaining self-confidence, albeit very slowly. I do now see him reasoning instead of running, looking for answers and a bit of trust toward me. You’re absolutely right that he needs more from me than the average horse. I wonder if it would have been different if he’d been with a herd in his younger years rather than always alone. He isn’t leader material and I believe he’s been longing for one for some time. He’s probably the most insecure horse I’ve ever known.

          • I have noticed in horses I have known that horses who don’t have the proper socialization as youngsters (as in being out with a herd, or being in training and bonding and learning through humans) seem to have that problem a lot. Not learning how to be around other horses and interact with them can stunt their mental development I think. Case in point, “Bobby”…his only social contact for the first three years until he went to a trainer was with a miniature donkey. Had no social skills in the herd, but rather than being the guy who gets picked on he became the bully. Note that although he pushed around a lot of other horses (HORRIBLE biter/kicker, food aggressive to people, etc) this didn’t make him a herd leader.

  3. Have you read Temple Grandin? She addresses the idea of Arabians vs some other breeds. Same with dogs, etc.

    It’s been a while, but my understanding is that Arabians have a higher fear, but also higher curiousity. Put a balloon in the pen and they will notice it first. Survival instinct, I suppose.

    She also talks about how higher fear animals do not habituate to painful procedures. Period.

    Lower fear can.

    We do tend to breed for lower fear animals, which is fine, but take it to an extreme and have low fear/high tolerance animals and it can be associated with rage syndromes like in some dog breeds usually thought tolerant.

    So, like everything else, moderation is best. But some people just can’t handle high fear animals and that’s cool. It just takes a different train of thought and patience sometimes..

    • thehorse.com recently reported on a study along the lines of your fear/curiosity point –
      from http://www.thehorse.com/articles/32440/researchers-study-horses-startle-response-to-novel-objects :

      “She explained that horses commonly display a startle response when faced with novel objects.
      “Horses that detect a novel object may startle and flee from it, then avoid it, ignore it, and approach it. The most reactive individuals—those most likely to startle—are those most likely to investigate (the object) if not forced.” This contradictory behavior is what researchers call the “novelty paradox,” which Berger took into account while performing her research.”

      “Horses that startled had much quicker latencies (36 seconds elapsed, on average, before they investigated the object) than horses that never startled (72.81 seconds).”

      (thehorse.com may require a login to read the little summary but it’s free to register; alternately there may be some anonymous logins available from bugmenot.com)

      In general, my two Spanish Mustang/Appaloosa crosses are more observant and inherently reactive than the rest of the herd (which includes two Arabians) and also are by far the most curious and interactive with novel objects in their environment – they’re still the only ones to actively engage with their annual piñata. The others wait and grab the fallen treats afterwards (which some may argue is more clever – treats without work – but the others also haven’t learned how to pick their own apples yet).

      • Thanks for the link to the article. I think it is also notable that the majority of horses never startled at all. I would speculate that most of those horses were already trained to some degree, familiar with contact with humans to a fair degree and therefore, human contraptions appearing and disappearing and that affected their ‘startle’ responses. It would be interesting to see the same kinds of experiments with range raised horses with limited human contact.

  4. You know they’re one of my favourite breeds and I’ve always asserted they’re ultra intelligent and often way smarter than their owners.

    As quick to learn bad as good.

    For me ‘intelligence’ and ‘smart’ is about being quick to learn. Quick to respond. The predisposition to express opinion. Not to put up with crap.

    I used to say when I competed with mine that it was always on the edge of brilliance or disaster. I knew they’d die for me and sometimes that really isn’t what you want.

    I don’t think you can compare ‘smart and intelligent’ for a horse with human ‘smart and intelligent’ though.

  5. I read an article once in a national horse magazine that surveyed a group of vets about the intelligence of various breeds, the vets named Appaloosa’s number one. When dogs are judged, many come up with border collies as number 1 on sheer brains, but put standard poodles number 1 on trainability, the intelligence of how to get along with humans. I own apps and a standard poodle. ;O

    I think humans would rate trainability above sheer thinking power. I think humans appreciate less fearful/emotional horses by and large which is why quarter horses have become so popular. But in certain performance horses, words like brio, reactive, sensitive, are thrown about, people want a horse that emotes more than it thinks.

    I also believe that thinking first and reacting emotionally second can be taught. I think we have to approach horses as individuals because variance within a breed is about as great as variation between breeds. I truly believe that we provoke most of the angst and flightiness in horses by not being tuned into the environment, paying enough attention to the feedback of the horse, and being inconsistent in our cues and reactions. We are the scary horse eating monsters more often than not, our horses just use the trash can on the other side of the drive as the excuse to run away from us.

    • There are also breed preconceptions that can cloud people’s perceptions. I knew an appaloosa once who could not tolerate water – to the degree that you could not fill a bucket if he was nearby. He lost his mind if you tried to sponge him down. Yet people would comment on how calm and great he was.

      • I have hear apps called stubborn, heard people say they don’t like the white eyes (visible sclera) and even heard some people say they are popular as a cross for eventers as they can be courageous, but calm isn’t always the first word that comes up. That said, one of my apps was easily scared of things, one is pretty unflappable but has a temper, and one is brave to the point of foolhardy. They were and are all opinionated.

        The water thing sounds like a learned thing, not a breed characteristic. Rascal plays with the hose, but don’t try to wash his tail, he hates that.

        [URL=http://s1178.photobucket.com/user/JARpets/media/photo2.jpg.html][IMG]http://i1178.photobucket.com/albums/x363/JARpets/photo2.jpg[/IMG][/URL]

    • Teaching a horse to think is my top goal as I firmly believe that a horse can learn to reason, yet they learn so differently. There are the passive horses that try their hearts out to please, the disconnected individuals that have never been asked to respond to a human in a ‘conversation’ and that are checked out & disinterested, there are the fear aggressive types – they require the trust/respect line to be perfectly applied and will test the line from minute to minute, one extreme to the next. I’ve only met one truly aggressive horse, made so by his owner who raised him with human emotion and baby talk and he can never be owned by someone without a will of iron. And then there are the over-reactors, fearful of everything, living in a state of panic whenever anything in their environment changes. The one’s I’ve known are Arabs. Beauty is paramount for the breed above all else – one only has to watch a halter class to know priorities. Hence the whips and plastic bags and handlers running around like idiots in the ring with no control of the horse’s movement other than being tethered to it via a chain. The horses are revved up as high as they’ll rev and kept this way throughout the class and all the way back to the stall. Buck Branamann wrote of one that came unglued and after helping the horse find itself again, the owners wanted to know when they could go back to the whips. It makes me think, is it the genetics of breeding the high to the higher? Did we breed this into them by the widest eyed “alert” halter horses? Have good minds been bred right out of the breed? They certainly do not approach life like other breeds I’ve known.

      • I’m not exactly well versed in Arab breeding, but there’s definitely been plenty of selection for reactivity in the halter world over the years, though that doesn’t necessarily apply to the breed as a whole. Polish bloodlines at least used to be regarded as more sensible (they’re also typically more stout and in general likely to be more appealing to those of us who like stock horses). Anecdotally, the couple I currently interact with are more reactive than the stock horses in the herd but are of only average intelligence (in terms of problem solving, curiosity, learning ability).

    • To your second point, re: humans rating trainability above sheer thinking power, there’s also the challenge of keeping the clever ones entertained so they don’t devote that mental energy to figuring out destructive ways to entertain themselves (not unlike some smart kids). It’s a lot easier to manage a horse that doesn’t problem-solve its way out of things the human would rather keep it in, and that the owner isn’t having to outthink.

      But the smart ones are so much more fun! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ArTADzVPaWE (taught this after he started stealing another boarder’s stuff in pasture and not giving it back. The related “please get me the [x]” trick came in handy post-knee surgery when I didn’t want to be picking up dropped items myself).

      (I made two substantive comments first so I get to show off the horse trick video now, right? A couple of y’all might remember this horse and his orange cousin from a message board from years ago – I had to quit those cold turkey back around 2007 when life got too busy.)

    • In my opinion there’s a HUGE difference between “intelligence” and “obedience”.

      To follow through also using the dog example and with 2 breeds I know well: There’s a presumption of course that each has had the best training available.

      Border collies tend to be highly trainable and are excellent at obedience. They will do what you tell them and when you tell them and will walk at heel wrapped round your leg. They look to you for instruction and they seek reassurance that they’ve done what you want. So send them out to bring some sheep in and they’ll go precisely where you tell them and they’ll turn them and bring them back where you want them. You TELL them. They require very little high energy enthusiasm or praise from their owner/handler. You don’t let them work themselves. You tell them what to do and what sp0eed and direction etc.

      Golden retrievers tend to be highly biddable and they’re intelligent. They’re not great at classic “obedience” because they tend to think for themselves. So for instance shoot a pheasant that’s a runner (hits the ground injured and heads for the hedge cover) and send your retriever out. First off he goes not because you TELL or INSTRUCT or ORDER. He does it because he wants to do something that he enjoys and pleases you. That means as a handler you have to keep the “fun” in and the energy and enthusiasm high. So your dog runs out and you can be waving your arms pointing to where said pheasant fell and your retriever will totally ignore you and go to where he knows the reward is – the reward being the pheasant. He knows better than you because he drops his nose and goes to where the bird ran and took cover NOT to where you saw it fall. As a handler you have to then let him work for himself and if he’s struggling to find the bird he’ll stop and look to you and just to check you’re there and to basically give some enthusiastic “Hi, LOST”… no direction required … just a carry on as you were.

      Border collies excel at formal competitive dog obedience. Golden retrievers don’t. But take a border collie out shooting and they’re rubbish! Occasionally it happens that someone tries to persuade me their collie is trained to the gun and to retrieve and they can do very basic stuff providing you tell them what to do. But if you need them to think for themselves and “go figure” you’re stuffed!

      I always say Lippezaners and Lusitano are relatively easy to train. They’re biddable and can do complex stuff. But I don’t personally think they’re “intelligent” as is for instance the Arab. The Arab is more of a challenge because in my opinion it’s got a tendency to have it’s own opinions and be “clever”

  6. Of all the Arabians I’ve worked with, the misconception that they are flighty, high-strung animals has been 99% disproven.

    Arabians are very curious creatures. They will look at things. They will investigate. They will decide what to do about the object. Then they will proceed. I can almost see the thought process with each individual horse. Some Arabs like to snort loudly before walking up, some just want to go and taste the object. But I would definitely rank them one of the most intelligent breeds, due to their sense of what is around them.

    Put a balloon on the rail of a roundpen, the Arab would be the first to 1) notice it, 2) investigate it, 3) move on. Their “common sense” is what impresses me the most.

  7. I think the biggest thing to remember here is that horses like the rest of us are individuals regardless of breed. We know there are different types of intelligence in people, and as several commenters stated, there are different types of intelligence in horses. Our own experiences with certain breeds predispose us to think a certain way; but bloodlines play a big part as well as training. I think it goes beyond just human ideas of intelligence and horse ideas of intelligence though; I once knew a Friesian gelding who I would consider well trained, easy to get along with (both horses and people), highly trainable, and intelligent; however take him trail riding and he would freak at large boulders. You could walk him over and through most anything, but large boulders apparently spelled instantaneous and horrific death. Each of us has our own quirks despite intelligence sometimes. I can’t speak as a whole on Arabs, but I have had fantastic experiences with my lil yearling and some close members of his family. He learns very quickly. I think the biggest thing I’ve noticed with him is not that he’s flighty, overreactive or unintelligent, but that he requires a strong leader. Perhaps that has something to do with the perception of intelligence. Some horses will walk all over you, overreact to certain stimuli, etc; but truthfully once you establish that you are unequivocably the leader, they respond with more intelligence and thinking.

  8. So your take on equine intelligence is that the the more they allow humans to work with them the more intelligent they are? Aren’t you confusing domestication with intelligence? Animals that are very docile are easier to work with than animals that are more intelligent, if horses were really smart they would not allow us to ride them at all! Over a period of 30 years I have worked with many different breeds, hot-blooded, cold-blooded, and everything in between. In my experience when people have difficulty with hot-blooded breeds it is usually a people problem, not a horse problem.

    • No, that isn’t what I said at all. I said that trainability is what humans appreciate more than sheer thinking power. I didn’t confuse anything. I stated an opinion about what I think humans like more when working with horses. In fact, what they tend to prefer when working with most animals. There is a reason domestic animals, those which have been selected and bred for long periods of times by humans, are docile compared to their wild counterparts and actually seem to enjoy human companionship, show less distrust of humans than wild animals, etc. I put it in terms of trainability, the willingness to learn how to do what a human wants, not mere placidity. It is also an area that is being studied scientifically, including the genetic changes that follow domestication.

      And I think horses are diverse and should be treated as individuals, I said as much in my post, and I said that humans are the cause of most angsty behavior in horses. I believe that animals are capable of being both highly intelligent in a sheer thinking capacity and trainable. I also think that horses, as herd animals, are hardwired to cooperate, and it is that security they feel in bonding with a group or other animal that makes it possible for humans to use them for work of all kind, riding, plowing, war, etc. Horses went from food for humans to one of the major factors in human advancement across the face of the planet because they could adapt. One might say that they, as a biological imperative, were more successful than many other animals, millions of their species surviving when other food animals of the wild dwindled as humans overtook their wild habitats.

      Scientists have hypothesized that cats and dogs domesticated themselves to a large extent for easy and readily available food around human settlements. I am beginning to think deer are doing the same thing in urban environments, with easily available food and cars the only major predators, deer are multiplying, becoming unafraid to wander in people’s yards, etc.

      I think that intelligence in animals comes with ‘kinds’ of intelligence just as it does in humans. I don’t believe humans are all that different in many important ways. Social intelligence, adaptability to new circumstances, reasoning, memory, all are parts of ‘intelligence’ and individuals have various aptitudes in different areas.

      I haven’t owned an arab, but I have ridden a few, in lessons, at a seminar, and been around arabs boarded by other people. I’ve been around drafts, draft crosses, warmbloods of various backgrounds, paints, qh, appaloosas, tb, walking horses. Quite frankly, I have liked almost every single one, didn’t think most came any where near stupid, though some of their owners were totally unaware and uninterested in learning, which is worse than stupid, and ended up owning mostly stock type horses simply because they were plentiful and cheap around here, and most I bought from the kill sale as babies. Twice I have made a deliberate choice to buy a particular kind of horse, my cutting horse I chose for cutting bloodlines that were very successful and available locally, and that meant quarter horses, and my most recent horse, I chose an appaloosa on purpose because I have so thoroughly enjoyed my other apps and I was looking for old lady gaits of the stock horse variety.

      • OK, excellent post, most excellent. I will repeat what I said earlier. Anyone who says horses are stupid has been outwitted by a horse.

    • We had a quarter mare with the same problem. She would spook at boulders but not wildlife. We decided/reasoned that she knew that if you pick up a boulder and threw it at her it would hurt where as the bunny on trail would not. 🙂 Enough miles on the trail and we no longer have that issue.

  9. I was given a mare to train that was very inbred. She just could not learn. You worked and worked and worked to get one tiny bit of give to a lesson (such as just stand quietly to be brushed) and finially she would seem to relax and get it. Next day you started the same lesson over from scratch. And the next day, and the next day… Lesson never really took. Try a different lesson (such as walk around you on a lounge line) and again the lesson just never really took. I really think the inbreeding made her a very stupid horse. I finially sent her back to her owner who turned her into, you guessed it, a broodmare. She had three untrainable foals before she died of a bad foaling.

    • I don’t agree with inbreeding, and I’m sorry that the mare was bred, and that she died. But.

      “Anyone who says a horse is stupid has been outwitted by the horse.”

    • I’ve only ever come across one horse of similar ‘inability to retain a lesson’, DKay. The owner bought her at auction. I believed her to be of Arab/Saddlebred breeding, but that was a guess. I don’t think she was stupid because she could learn in the moment, but from day to day she seemed unable to remember what she’d learned the day before. It really was the oddest thing. Even if you did the exact same thing, in the exact same order, day after day for weeks in a row, you’d still have to reteach the lesson at some point if you ceased to ‘review’ constantly.

      A simple thing like stepping over a single ground pole would take weeks upon weeks and when you’d finally think she had it for good, a few days later if you revisited the ground pole it’d be like she’d never seen one before.

      I’d never been unable to teach a horse to drive until her. After a month of work, I told the owner she’d never be drivable and they didn’t believe me and subsequently sent her to another trainer whose family had been training horses to drive and plow for forever and he sent her back to the owner after just one week and wasn’t nearly so kind in his words about the horse than me.

      Horses like this are few and far between.

      • I think you said this a little better than I did in my first post as this is what I had in this mare—inability to retain what she learned from one day to the next. Each day you had to start over from scratch with the exact same lesson as yesterday. She would finially seem to ‘get it’ but next day it was gone. I definately feel her problem had to do with the very close inbreeding. I have seen other horses as inbreed as she that were very smart but the common parent of this mare was known to be hard to train–not untrainable–just hard to train.

      • I worked with one horse like that. A beautiful warmblood mare. I tried introducing her to jumping, as she had the physical talent and scope for it. But a ground pole warranted a dead stop, snorting and blowing, followed by a three-foot vertical leap. Fine. I can accept that as a first reaction. But it would take many, many repetitions to get down to a simple step over the ground pole. And the next day, it would be back to the stop, snort, blow, three-foot leap. Every. Single. Day. When it just didn’t get better, I declined to jump the mare any more.

        We had the same deal with a poster in the arena that set out the arena rules. It would flutter a little on the edges if there was a breeze. Spooky! But most horses would have a good look the first time the poster fluttered, and maybe even the second time, but since they went in this arena every day, very quickly they would learn to ignore it. This mare spooked at the poster every day for the six months I rode her.

        • Don’t you feel that these horses may not be on the highest end of the horse or human IQ scale? It’s like some don’t have the ability to process information and record it for later use. We and they learn at different levels and that’s what brought this blog topic to my mind with the over-reactive horse struggling to get through what I considered a relatively easy lesson. He did eventually get it and his learning is now starting to increase at a more normal rate though he’s stil a very reactive animal. My resident OTTB absolutely would not jump a cross-rail, she stopped every single time for months and then walked over it. We basically gave up on her having a hunter career until one day I followed her with a lunge whip while her owner rode forward. Over she went and she hasn’t looked back since. In fact, she takes the gymnastic free choice when turned out in the ring to roll. She actually likes to jump after all but wasn’t confident in her own ability to do it.

          • I agree, I don’t think that horse was intelligent no matter how you define it. I can certainly see how spooking/ reacting is an intelligent behaviour for a prey animal in the wild. But even the wild horse surely must learn that some stimulae are harmless, and can be ignored? It be wasteful of energy for the wild horse to go into full flight mode every time she encounters say, a rabbit.
            I totally agree generally though, with the concept that horses that seem easiest to work to people, probably are on the dull side for horse intelligence. My mare, for example, tends to remain calm even when horses around her are panicking. It’s a trait I have really appreciated numerous times. But it would be pretty dumb for a wild horse. She’d be the one left behind for the predator after all the others ran away.

          • I wonder though…does your mare being rock solid sensible mean that she is intelligent to the point of having adapted beyond perceived threats? I’ll take her kind any day and leave the wheel and bolters to the younger generation with glue on their breeches every time a bunny or squirrel shows a face!
            I have a gelding that’s superb to train, great mind, always tries anything I ask, a horse most anyone would enjoy. But he can be stupidly reactive over nothing – a couple weeks ago I had a small gnat fly up my nose when riding, instinct was to ‘farmer blow’ to get the thing out of my sinuses! The sound sent him into orbit, which he associated then, and 2 weeks later, to one end of the ring. Like, really? He will survive because I love him dearly, not because I feel he’s the brightest bulb out there, which is fine with me. My little mare, though not for everyone, is a horse I could ride on the buckle with eyes closed.

          • Blondemare, I guess that’s really an example of this whole debate. I don’t actually know if, when my mare stays calm while her companion freaks out, it’s because she has analyzed the situation and decided there is no actual danger, therefore she elects not to waste the energy on a freak-out, or if she’s simply ignoring her companion’s signal of possible danger. The first one is smart, the second might be perceived as “sensible” to humans but could actually be seen as dumb from a horse perspective.

            Another horse I had, a usually very “sensible” gelding, one day refused to turn onto my favourite trail. I insisted, he balked, we had a fight over it, and eventually, he gave up fighting me and turned onto the trail. Where we soon encountered a very large coyote. The whole time he was resisting me, I was calling him a stupid horse for not listening, but obviously, he was actually a smart horse who had detected the danger, and I was the stupid one who wasn’t listening!

            Most of the time I really appreciate my mare’s “sensible” nature, but I have wondered if she’s so calm and obedient that she’d walk into actual danger without reacting. We have a pretty sheltered life, so I really can’t say if she’s calm because she’s never been faced with a valid threat, or if she’s just oblivious.

          • Oh and just to be clear… even if my horse is sensible because she’s dumb, I’m totally cool with it… I think the risk that I might need my horse to perceive a threat and save me from it, in the kind of riding I do, is pretty low, so I’ll take a dumb, calm horse over one that says “DANGER” and dumps me on my butt and runs back to the barn because there was a plastic bag in a bush. I also prefer my dog, who would happily lick a burglar’s face and let him steal my TV, to one that sees everyone as a threat and bites my friends.

          • I know, I’ll take a non-reactive horse any day, dumb or smart! I fully believe that some horses do assess situations and over-ride their own instincts. I have polar opposites and enjoy them both, the smarter horse being the harder but ‘safer’ ride. In the ring she’s a challenge, always anticipating the next move, her mind is always in high gear but no spook or drama. She overjumped a small vertical a couple weeks ago, unseating my normally sticky friend, and stopped when she felt her nearly go off. She just ‘knows’ things and has made a believer out of many friends who have ridden her over the years.
            I think what it comes down to is that there is a horse for every person. I want a horse that isn’t going to turn me into a sail pigeon over a chipmunk, reacting is acceptable, running hell-bent for Texas is not! I don’t enjoy trail riding a horse that jumps every 20’, it’s unnerving and exhausting. I’ve taken in a few spooks for training over the years and we manage to gain confidence and improve but it’s always just below the surface. Yes, sometimes we’re wrong and don’t listen when they try to tell us something’s wrong, but they forgive us and move on. Helping them learn and grow is by far the best reward going.

  10. When my wife had a riding school, we had exposure to many different breeds, from Arabs to drafters to TBs to ponies. I started out in horses with an Anglo-Arab mare. She was probably the most inappropriate horse for a young boy to have that was possible, but I persisted and eventually got her to a point where I could ride her. I have a soft spot in my heart (or head) for Goofy-Arabs (one word that covers most of the breed). I agree the Polish bloodlines have more sense. The Egyptians are exquisite little dolls whose intelligence is being bred out in favor of beauty.
    Perceived intelligence in horses is affected intensely, I believe, by what you want the horse to do. The horse who gets along with everyone, stays out of trouble and tries to please may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but will be the one chosen. I tend to look at how quick the colts pick up on training-30 years ago I had Morgan foals who usually ended up laying down before they submitted to a halter and being tied, but my foals by my current stallion are the “smartest” I have ever worked with. They try the halter and lead about 3 times, and then you can see the thought cross their minds “Well, that won’t work, so I guess I will stand here and see what comes next”. A joy for an aging, slower horse wrangler to work with.

    • “Well, that won’t work, so I guess I will stand here and see what comes next”. Thinkers not about to waste good energy on a futile effort. Teaching them to think at a young age gives them such a head start in life.

  11. You will always find a few really smart horse in any breed. I have seen very good Arabs – but proportionally far fewer than I have seen very good quarter horses. I have seen flighty quarter horse – but again proportionally fewer than Arabs. I have yet to find any sort of appaloosa I would own and from reading responses here there are obviously some decent ones.

    I do have a strong bias to the quarter horse breed – they are the border collies of the horse world. they ones bred for useful work are excellent- the ones bred for halter and racing are not so bright.

  12. We had a horse in the school who was unable to retain directions from day to day. However, Bill” was docile and would let the students ride him (he came to us trained to ride, so he was not completely hopeless). He was invaluable in the school for the intermediate riders. Most school horses learn to anticipate commands and directions and the student can just go along for the ride. Not Bill. Every circle, every pole, every jump was something that the student had to direct him through or over. It was all new to him every day. He would not spook but you had to RIDE him every step of the lesson. The students hated him. We loved him. After 7 years of lessons, he actually started to catch on and anticipate, so he was given honorable retirement.

    • My app, Fire, is a stickler for doing it the right way, you don’t give the correct cue, at the right time, he simply won’t help you out and ‘fill in’ what he knew you wanted, too heavy hands and he’ll put his nose to the ground, do it right and he’ll do whatever you ask on the lightest aids. Very calm, not spooky. But such a pedant with a rider, so much so that once in a lesson I couldn’t get the canter cues correct, and we spent a long time with me trying to get it, and finally I did and Fire performed a perfect depart and very nice canter, so the instructor said good, we’ll quit on that and we did a down transition and halt. And Fire turned his head around and started giving me down the road, shaking his head and poking out his nose, curling his lips, really telling me off, to the point the instructor said “Quit that, you aren’t perfect either”. And if he did something really well in a lesson and earned a good boy from the instructor, he collected up and just strutted his stuff. Like I said earlier, every app I have known was very opinionated. And one of those opinions is invariably that they know more than any human about how things ought to be done.

  13. Like others have noted, I really think that intelligence is a horse by horse basis, and then, also an owner by owner basis. There is a woman who boards at my barn that owns two horses – a very green mustang she rescued that had bone caner or something, and an Arabian gelding who is very easily a jerk. In actuality both of her horses can be dangerous. This, however, has entirely to do with the owner, not the breed of her horses, nor their intelligence level. She is absolutely a nervous wreck when she handles the horses, and these horses are not beginner friendly in the least bit. They feed off her energy and thus become worked up the longer she handles them. Currently, she is paying another to work and show her Arab gelding, and he is the most respectful I’ve seen him because she is no longer handling him. All the Arabians I have contact with are actually not “flighty” and “fearful.” What they can be is sensitive, but again, this isn’t a rule of thumb. A horse absolutely feeds off those that handle it, learns habits and fears from those that trained it, and from how it was raised. So, instead of pointing fingers at a particular breed, I say instead look at the history of that particular horse. I would say that 99% of the time, a horse and its intelligence/habits are what someone has created. Going back to the woman I mentioned earlier – when she becomes nervous and tries to “verbally reprimand” her Arab gelding, all she ends up doing is getting him more nervous and upset. When the other woman rides him and just quietly corrects him, there is a world of difference.

    Just an amateur’s two cents.

  14. I really appreciate the distinction that’s been articulated between “intelligent as perceived by horses” and “intelligent as perceived by humans”, or intelligence versus trainability.

    I used to own a really fantastic gelding who gave me some insight into this, and I think it’s because he was a great combination of both intelligent for a horse AND intelligent as perceived by people. When I bought this horse I was told he was “great on trails”. I associate that wording with a horse that plods along in a relaxed, content manner, seldom reacting. So I was very surprised by my “great on trails” gelding’s behaviour when I took him on our first ride. His eyes and ears were constantly in motion. Always alert, always scanning. On perceiving something unusual, I could feel his muscles be tense and ready. I associated that feeling with a horse that’s about to spin, bolt and run for the barn, so I questioned how this horse could be considered “great on trails”.

    With time and more trail rides though, I realized that he never did spin and bolt for the barn. He was always alert, would never fall into that trail horse plod, but it was like he was constantly thinking and processing. I imagine his mental process to have been like “Oh! There’s something! Just a bird, it’s okay. Oh! There’s something else! Just a shadow, it’s okay”. When confronted with something generally considered “spook worthy”, like a mountain biker suddenly coming around a corner, this horse had a “spook in place” reflex – a jump on the spot, muscles tense, head up, heart pounding – but without the spin/bolt that would come next on most horses.

    I understood that as his natural horse-style intelligence – this is danger, I ought to flee – being balanced against being highly trainable (and well trained) – my rider does not want me to flee.

    I consider that gelding the best horse I’ve ever owned, and when it comes to intelligence, that’s the sort of horse I seek out – one that is alert, and reacts, but also thinks and processes.

    • Oh and for those interested in breed associations with intelligence/ reactivity… the breed of my wonderful gelding: Thoroughbred!

      • that’s exactlly what my TB does – react, tense and spook in place, then settle down. i did however, have to earn his trust and increase his confidence that we could leave the barn and his buddy, and he could do this on his own. i had to develope the thinking side of his brain little by little, with weekly hacks that got farther away from home.

      • I board an OTTB and she’s not an easy horse, has energy to burn, but is very intelligent. (and opinionated, challenging, impossible to tire, testy…did I mention she’s smart too?) 🙂

    • The paint mare is like that. She hardly ever spooks on the trails because she has seen and heard what’s ahead way before I do. She is very alert and “looky” on the trails, needs to mentally process any change in the landscape, but only gives a little spook scurry on the rare times something genuinely takes her by surprise. And after that, she is generally deliberately nonchalant once she sees it is nothing. She is quite alpha and bossy, and has had periods of being boss mare in herds, so this kind of alert confidence does seem to be connected to intelligence and survival.

  15. I don’t think it is really up to us to decide on the intelligence of any animal based on how they react or communicate with us. Some horses are more trusting and some are less so. Does that mean one is more intelligent – I doubt it very much.

    Let’s compare to humans. If we judge human intelligence based on how humans interact with other humans then it would be safe to assume that the most intelligent of our own species would be considered fools.

    A lot of what a vet experiences is in direct relation to how well the owner has prepared the horse for whatever they are going to do AND how good the vet is at handling horses which in my experience is rare. Farriers and vets cause a lot of grief. They are always in a hurry and just lack good horsemanship – in general.

  16. Let’s think about this in human terms. There are so many different types of ‘smart’.

    Social Smarts – getting along with people, communication skills, empathy, etc.
    Street Smarts – aware and educated about the world around you.
    Book Smarts – literate; perhaps mathematically smart, etc.
    Common Sense Smarts – needs no explanation. Or maybe it does. Depends who’se reading this.
    Abstract Thinking Smarts, Mechanical Smarts, Art or Musical Smarts, etc etc etc.

    So let’s face it. Some of these categories an individual may learn easily and appear to be very smart. Other categories they simply can’t master. Different types for different individuals.

    Are horses not similar? Perhaps the ones we think of as stupid just need a different perspective. Maybe those Arabs should have a paint brush in their teeth.

    Then there is how easily we learn something depending on the method used to teach. For some of us, a mathematical equation makes sense. For others, they need to touch and feel. Etc…

    The poor poor misunderstood horse.

  17. What an interesting conversation. I will say that Arabs and Apps are on my faves list, tho’ the Clydes do fall on my ‘not-faves’ list, along with Haflingers, of all things. I pretty much like all horses, but I might roll my eyes a little if a new client calls with one of those breeds 😉

    There’s an old saying: “You have to be smarter than your horse, thus most people are not qualified to own Arabians”. I find it to be true more often than not.

    Appies also seem to require their own special approach. Apps seem to think more like donkeys than many breeds of horses. The Indians bred them to think – they needed a horse that knew its job and would do it, even if the rider had both hands on bow and arrow. They think for themselves. Europeans tended to breed horses that would do what they were told. I find that it can be very hard to get into an appy’s head, but once you do, they’ll pretty much throw themselves in front of a train for you.

    I also find a correlation between appy owners and mule/donk owners. If you don’t like the one, you probably won’t like the other.

    These are just my observations over my years of “horsing”. It’s interesting to read others’ experiences, too.

  18. You seem to be judging all Arabians on your experience with one that possibly didn’t get the best start in life. Having ridden and trained a couple of part-breds and a purebred over the last 20 odd years, they are all different from each other. Over reactive, maybe, but fast learners definitely. But then I don’t have an pre-conceived ideas of how a horse should behave and given I’m the human, its up to me to adapt. They are what they are. Have recently purchased a TB/Clydesdale cross and she is quite different to my Arabians. She will quite happily walk into the feed shed (dark and enclosed, small door), but my others wouldn’t dream of it. Does that make one “breed” smarter than the other, no. They are just different – life would be boring from a training point of view if they were all the same.

    • This is not the only Arab I’ve known, just the most recent, and they are in most cases more over-reactive than stock horses, WB’s, drafts and the like. I’ve heard many Arab people claim that they’re more intelligent than other horses and this is why they don’t/can’t/won’t (XXX) fill in the blanks. I certainly disagree with those comments. I went to Regionals for several years with a friend who bred and showed them and there was never a dull moment in or out of the arena. I don’t necessarily believe they are ‘dumb’ horses but their energy (which kicks it in endurance, hands down) can get them in trouble, and they don’t relax to the level that I want a horse to relax. My preference is for a horse that will curiously walk into the feed shed or tack room, tie quietly in the middle of a 4 hour trail ride and ride on the buckle on the way home. I just don’t feel that reactivity is a sign of intelligence when it’s done to extreme.

      • My half Arab mare will readily follow me into our boarder’s tack room if I let her – she knows cookies and other goodies are kept in there, and for intents and purposes, it really resembles a dark cave. I can also take her out on the trails for a relaxing afternoon, on a nice loose rein. My jumping instructor owns an Arab gelding (now retired) who has done it all, literally, He has packed out elk in the forest, gone to jumper shows and won (I’m talking like five foot jumps too),and now teaches a few younger kids some jumping and riding basics. He’s the calmest, more capable horse I’ve met. The schoolmaster gelding I take lessons on from her is also an Arab who just the most honest thing. There’s also another Arab gelding she has that is a very calm, good boy for a girl who is looking to start some crossrails at shows. So, when you say they don’t relax, actually, they do. Can they get riled up? Certainly, but so can every other horse, if the right conditions are met. I won’t say that all Arabs are raised and trained in a manner that produces a calm horse, especially in the show scene. In fact, I have found that many of those people who say, “Oh, he’s/she’s/it’s just being an Arab,” are actually just making excuses. No, a typical Arab is not a nervous jerk of a horse. Unfortunately, that stereotype is one that makes the loudest and most lasting impressions. While the number of wonderful Arabs really does outnumber those not so wonderful by a good bit, they are often background to those “loud” impressions. As I have mentioned before – the owners and trainers are really the ones responsible for creating/perpetuating such behavior, not the breed.

  19. At the moment I have a gelding (paint coloring but no known pedigree) in my barn that reminds me of a big easy going lab dog. Nothing in life disturbs him. Everything needs to be seen and explorerd! Makes him a joy to trail ride as he loves to see whats around the next bend. Is he exceptionally smart or slightly dumb because he has no reactive fear? I don’t know. I just know he will get there and home in one peice and be happy, happy, happy doing so.

  20. I have had two Arabians, a Quarter Horse, and a Tennessee Walking Horse in my life. The TWH was, by far, the easiest to work with and the most willing to please of all my horses. He was also, in my opinion, the dumbest. He couldn’t figure out the simplest things on his own. (Would stand at the plastic feed bin and wait for somebody else to open it, would stand in front of an unlatched stall door all day and not try it, took forever to figure out how to use a hay net or a new kind of feed trough.) But, once shown the way, would perform a task asked of him over and over again. Both Arabians could figure out anything on their own, but didn’t want to perform an asked task more than a couple of times without getting bored and wandering off. Both were, however, the most loving, trustworthy, and entertaining horses I have ever owned. The quarter horse was right middle of the road. Happy to please, but took him a while to grasp a concept. I do think that sometimes more intelligent horses can be harder to train simply because they get bored faster.

  21. I rode a very spooky arab horse at a clinic, but he didn’t stay that way because I was given tools to deal with his spookiness, and in doing so, became what Tom Dorrance remarks on as the calm center of the storm for the horse. I think whether a horse is reactive or calm by nature, the rider will ultimately have the most influence on the end product. Learn what some of the masters of the horse world have to teach, and you will ride a horse that doesn’t take off when startled, be it arab or stock horse or draft. And very few of these lessons, because they work with the horse’s point of view, with their bodies and minds and emotions, take a real long time to teach. If we can’t amend our lessons to the individual horse, meet their needs, then I don’t think they ever learn from us at the deepest level that eases spooking and tension and fear of each unexpected situation. I think the riders who had calm horses when others around them were getting excited about some event, were the ones who had the horses tuned into them for reassurance. Instead of reacting to the other horses, they reacted to the rider. And I agree with the poster about the horse who wouldn’t go down the trial and it turned out to have the coyote, on a horse you know, doing something you’ve done before, if it suddenly says
    no emphatically, listen to your horse. Over the years I have heard tales from so many riders who realized after the fact, they should have listened. Horses by and large hear and smell better than we do by a phenomenal amount. If a quiet dependable horse says not this way, not today, how many of us would listen? How many of us should listen?

    • That was me who had the horse saying “no way” and it turned out to be the coyote. I’ve learned to listen to horses better since then! I also posted that my mare tends not to react when other horses are panicking and you know, it never occured to me that it might be me and not the mare. Which is funny, because one of my friends jokes that I am “Valium for horses” and I’ve disagreed with her on that. She says horses just seem to go calmly for me. I say that it’s because I pick calm horses and leave the silly ones to the fearless teenagers. But maybe it’s a little of A and a little of B.

  22. I love my Arabs, my thoroughbreds, my “smarter breeds.” However, whenever I hear someone say, “Oh, he does that because he’s an Arab” I hear one thing only, an excuse. A smart horse is a complex horse, or a horse that doesn’t have a one and done method. Usually, your average horse has one means of avoidance. (i.e., he stops, backs up, goes to the left, etc.) However, your smart horses are thinking of multiple ways to avoid a situation (i.e., all of the above!) How frustrating! How difficult that can be! It makes them seem simple, stupid, difficult, and *insert insult here.* But they’re not. They’re like dealing with an intelligent child. Where your average kid might try once to get away with something, the intelligent child is always watching, always waiting to see what they can do next. Some “smart breeds” have individuals who are dumb, but usually, misbehaving Arabs have owners/trainers who make excuses for their horse’s behavior, not a dumb horse.

    With the multiple Arabs in the field, I rarely see them running around because of some loud noise. They might shutter the way we all do when we hear a loud noise, but it seems rather harsh to assume a prey animal is never allowed to react in a shudder to a basic fear of loud noises. Heck, when we hear something thump we all tend to jump. However, I will see all of the Arabs watching. Investigating. Always curious. Always into something. Any misbehavior on their part under saddle is from lack of trust, respect, and training on behalf of their owners/trainers.

    Arabs are fiercely loyal and protective of their family members, from the little people in their “herd” to the advanced riders.

  23. I’ve got a couple of arabs which I ride on trails and endurance. When I first got the mare I was told to treat her firmly and fairly which I have always tried to do. We have an understanding – she is a horse and when in the paddock acts like one. Once haltered she becomes a horse companion to humans, loves little children, tolerates strangers taking liberties, and is an experienced middle distance endurance horse who knows how to get from A to B without exhausting herself. She is now 12 and the sort of horse that people say is ‘not like an arab’ as she is quiet and gentle, can be ridden on the buckle. Her idea of dealing with danger is to pass it in a wide circle without stopping. Tree stumps seem to be the major hazards in her life. The 14 yo gelding stops dead and ‘points’ his ears . When he is satisfied, he will dip his head slightly, and move on. If he is startled, he will do a ta-da!, maybe a couple of steps, and then turn to look at whatever surprised him. Then move on. Both will tackle anything out on the trail, but don’t ask them to step on seesaws or tarpaulins – such activities are beneath their dignity and I’m not interested in that sort of training anyway.

    Last weekend we were at a ride and passing a recycling centre. There was a huge wind coming at us in gusts, down the hill between some trees. Suddenly, not one, but TWO large pieces of white plastic wrap – the sort you might find on a new mattress – came flying towards us. Mare stopped, considered her options, then moved quietly off the road, and allowed the plastic to pass a couple of metres away. Then trotted on. What a good horse!

  24. My grandma bred arabs and I noticed they were very different depending on thier breeding. Her polish bred arabs seemed more flighty then the egyption bred horses. I have a nice gelding that she bred for (he is 20 now) and he is wonderful. He is not spooky but very curious. He also is highly intelligent and he can open gates, undue buckets, and outsmart his rider.

  25. When I was a kid, we used to own a Hafling, on the more traditional drafty end of the breed. He was what I would consider a very inteligent horse but also veeeeery calm. He was an escape artist- could get into and out of everything. He was the reason our feed shed had to have a padlock and our gate looked like Fort Knox. He even figured out how to get through electric fencing by letting the lines lie on his mane and jerking his head up.
    But he wasn’t spooky at all- he’d do anything as long as there was enough attention in it for him. My sister and me rode him in a fake-hunt, a carnival parade through town, a pony race, as well as on numerous trail rides, drove him, took him over the local riders’ scary-things-course (a bridge, a flappy curtain, all sorts of things). He would take on anything, as long as he was allowed to have a look at it for a bit. (we were 13 and 14 at the time and thought ourselves indestructible- most of these things I would NEVER do now, especially with as little preparation as we did then).
    He was also a bit of a d*ckhead- while he would look after little kids and beginners as nice as you please, he was a master bucker and would throw us off when he got bored and the run just far enough to have a snack, wait till we almost reached him, run a little further, rinse and repeat. I came home just behind him quite a few times…
    And he would always try to lead any group of horses he was part of, even if just for the ride-didn’t succeed against the big horses, but that was one thing he was slow to learn.

  26. I come from a line of horse trainers and cattlemen. My grandfather was even given the first contracts (back in the 50’s/60’s) to train the mountain horse. Most refer to the as mustang. Were a Chevy family tho. He was doing Pirelli before he was imprinted and my Grandfather called it “getting ur hands on em as quick as possible cuz they will want to know u as u want to know them” imprinting and quick words as such has made millions for these New coachmen.

    But I believe in what he had taught me and among the horsemaship it was that we can always learn more and become better. Even from “not as experienced a person” or an “overly dated” person.

    I’ve trained all disciplines and would never say that I am a top notch stud in any of them. But everyday I figure more out. I’ve trained over 4 digits of horses and/or assisted in some. I believe in the roundpen techniques of less is more when apllying extra props or treats. Exercise is good. In fact it’s the top rated technique lately. Some horses would be able to have the mental capacity at birth to be riddin and would not switch a tail in hesitation if it was possible…don’t we all wish. Where as others would need some more guidance and time to mentally mature. I’ve raised horses from a foal all the way through and I have had ppl bring me 8 y.o. that are 1300 pound lapdog with owners that have never done anything with them. Well besides the usual sit and stay (halter and lead broke). My technical ways rather wrong or right are honed as such that 98% of the time I do them as habit and though a little leeway is giving in human era I could blind fold you and you could ride most of them and wouldn’t notice a difference. With all that said and the disclaimer that (Arabian bred equines r on my (only if I had no other choice list) just be cuz.
    Ok the belief that a whole breed is smarter in an overall mental capacity is impossible since we have been breeding and selecting domestic horses for human use and companionship for to long. Its a fact that we as equestrian throughout the ages would never breed for mental lackness or disability. Though breeds differ in what traits the equestrian wants from speed to weight and size and all things from the working draft that pulls a plow; to the miniature that comes inside the home through the doggy door; we as equestrian throughout all the changes would never never as equestrian breed or cause mental differences as is put forward here. I could give examples of quarters being mean and Belgium’s being scared and Arabian being lazy…but none of that matters because the scientific fact behind the equestrian is the answer. All specimens of all creatures have there mentality differences but this here is simply answered through how a human has and always will choose. It’s funny how the human specie answers the questions of another specie.
    Now if this was about a completely nondemesticated species that was out there we would be able to debate.

    • I would say that we don’t ‘purposely’ breed for less intelligence in a horse, which doesn’t mean that’s not sometimes the outcome. Just as we don’t ‘purposely’ breed for horses for early breakdown in life, we sure do breed horses that have conformation traits that predispose them to early breakdown. Intent and result are not the same. With our intent to breed faster racehorses, we have ignored undesirable traits (to the horse) like poor feet, light bone, long, weak loins, over at the knee conformation etc… What we should have done was only bred the fastest horses that ALSO possess the strongest overall conformation. But we didn’t.

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