Horses are not just built to run, they can do more than we think. Most people believe that horses have a brain like the size of a walnut. The size gives us the idea that they do not think, are not conditioned-response animals, have no sense of concept. Guess what – equines are sensitive just like us.

Trakehner stallion, born 2000, by Tambour out ...
Trakehner stallion, born 2000, by Tambour out of Costa Rica by Maizauber (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Horses are known to be independent thinking animals that like to be free to move about and not confined to small places. If you compare horses that are left in open fields to those that are kept in the, they will possess different  behaviors. The stall-bound horses behavior manifest in form of pacing around the stall, chewing on the walls, kicking and biting in order  to try to cope with stress. However, the horses on the open field will not show that kind of behavior as they are not acting against their will. Proof that horses think.

Horses have different ways of showing that they can make use of their brains, for example, dressage. Dressage means training. It is one of the equestrian sports where the physical, mental and athletic ability of the horses are tested. They are expected to perform at there own will, with minimal instructions from the rider.

According to researches done on horse intelligence, horses learn from :

  • Habituation:  This is where, after repeated exposure to a stimulus, the horse becomes used to it and its reaction disappears. While this may involve human interaction, it equally applies to anything in its paddock, such as wind, snow, or hail. Everything is important for their learning as it allows a horse to filter out non-vital information, enabling it to focus on more important things.
  • Desensitization:  Hypersensitive animals can be desensitized by getting them used to the stimuli in increments. A trainer, for example, will introduce a bridle gradually to a horse, backing off if the horse shows an unfavorable response. If its done properly, a horse will learn to willingly accept gentle bridling. It is through both these forms of learning that a horse can be made familiar with major stress factors, such as gunfire.
  • Pavlovian conditioning: This is where a horse becomes conditioned to give a particular response. If  a trainer consistently uses the word trot with the flick of a whip to get a horse to move into a trot, the horse will eventually respond to the verbal cue without the need for the whip.
  • Operant conditioning:  Horses are effective at this form of learning, and it is a standard part of training techniques. When a horse begins to learn the meaning of a new stimulus, its response is initially random. Through trial and error, it will offer the desired response.

So, if riders takes the time in training their horses to trot, piaffe, passage, flying changes, change gaits, and pirouette, then, they will find out that horses are elegant and can do more than just running. They can be calm, loose, attentive, and flexible. At this stage, a dressage rider will feel safe on the horse. Dressage riders dress formally at shows in white breeches and shirts, tie, black dressage coats, tall horse riding boots, hair in a bun and a show bow.

Point to remember, everything with a brain can think to certain level and can be trained for a purpose.

Guess post by: Ezekiel Osundina


NOTE from Joni Solis (blog owner): If you really want to learn more about how smart your horse is try out clicker training with him or her. Many people discover that their horse learns faster and with a lot less effort when they are trained with positive methods.

One comment

  1. What a great article. I also liked the clicker training suggestion. I think this type of training is the best and very positive.
    I also believe that horses show their intelligence in many ways. One of the ways, as pointed out in the article, is learning complex moves and timing for dressage and equestrian training.
    When you consider that horse therapy can help a child with cerebral palsy walk and talk when they had almost given up hope of him ever being able to, also shows that horses have a lot more to give than just an intelligent response. Their calming presence and beautiful nature is perfect for equine therapy and has been shown to work very well.
    If you’re ever in NSW’s mid north coast, Port Macquarie (Australia), then come and check out how we train our horses. They all have plenty of space to roam and spread their legs.

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