icelandic horses in the meadow

When it comes to measuring intelligence between two different species, there isn’t exactly an IQ test handy, which makes it near impossible to achieve. The problem is there are so many types of intelligence to consider. Horses are similar to dogs in that they have a history of being one of our closest allies. They can be trained, but they are also prey, while dogs are built to be predators.

To compare intelligence between both is like saying a dog is stupid because it isn’t a horse, so we have to look at them individually. This makes the answer a little frustrating because, in the debate on whether horses are smarter than dogs, we .

What Makes Horses Smart?

Horses are undeniably smart, but it’s important to identify in which ways. They can be trained for sport, to let us ride them, or do tricks like handshakes or bowing. They’re trained for war or to be used in the police. They are prey animals and employ several tactics to keep themselves safe, such as joining forces with other horses.

Horses are social animals, and not just shown by the herds they form with other horses. They form bonds and connections with humans after spending less time with us than dogs do.

Like dogs, horses can recognize human emotions. They have the emotional intelligence to not only understand when we are happy or sad, but they also have been known to comfort us. They can read human cues, as can be seen in the story of Clever Hans, a performing horse in Berlin in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

It was believed that Clever Hans could do complex math and word problems. He would respond by tapping his hoof the exact number of times to correctly answer the question when asked. It was later realized that Clever Hans wasn’t doing complex sums in his head, he was actually picking up on subtle cues from his handler, which is still impressive.

woman riding a horse
Image courtesy of Pixabay

What Makes Dogs Smart?

Dogs are trained in much of the same areas as horses; they learn tricks and work alongside humans in the military and police. They can sniff out drugs and cancer, and alert humans when they are about to have a seizure.

On average, a dog can learn 165 words, including gestures which makes them invaluable to people living with disabilities. They help blind people navigate the world around them safely and support people with autism. They can also recognize human emotions and will comfort the humans they care for.

Unlike horses, they are predators. Their bodies are designed to take down prey, whilst prey is programmed to run when faced with danger. Just like a horse teaming up with other horses to survive in the wild, the dog’s ancestor, the wolf, teams up with other wolves to form a pack. Undeniably, hunting for food takes a certain level of skill and intelligence.

Dogs adapt well, too, and have learned to live with humans not just to aid them but to provide companionship and a sense of family to the homes they are brought into. They make connections with the people around them, and it’s clear the love their humans have for them is not one-sided.


Determining who is smarter—a horse or a dog—is an impossible feat. Both are intelligent with similar and very different skills that have made them popular with humans. A fact that is not set to change any time soon.

They work with us and become part of the family, so, whether you’re Team Horse or Team Dog, we can at least agree on some things: dogs and horses are pretty smart, and they’re most definitely special to us humans.

Featured Image Credit: Pixabay