This is of great debate. While your dog may have run headfirst into a wall last week, your horse could have recently spooked at his own flatulence. Hilarity aside, both are incredibly charming and loyal animals, and they seem to come as a set – many horse owners also have a dog or two at any given time. Hey, there’s already hair everywhere. May as well have double the fun.
Measuring intelligence, even from human to human, never mind between species, is hopelessly complex. There are so many ways someone can be “smart.” As Einstein once said, “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by his ability to climb a tree, it will live its’ life believing it is stupid.” The same way you might judge your horse by his fear of Liverpools, even after jumping them five million times.
So, in what way are horses and dogs smart? Understanding how they think, and what they are good at helps immensely with training. Simple brain mass is not the most accurate way to measure, as larger animals have larger brains simply to control larger amounts of muscle and sensory processing. Humans do technically have one of the largest brain-to-body-mass ratio, but it could be debated that we are not necessarily terribly intelligent. Look at how bad we are at memorizing our jump offs and dressage tests.
A general rule is that any animal that needs to hunt for living prey is smarter than an herbivore, who does not need to put as much brain power into stalking down blades of grass. Not that your dog does much hunting anymore, unless it’s into the garbage bin for treasured burger wrappers. However, horses have developed extremely sensitive social and emotional intelligence from herd structures. How else would they be able to know that the fence you are scared of is precisely the one they should run out at?
Jokes aside (I can’t resist, horses and dogs are such easy targets), horses can sense incoming weather changes from their whiskers, smell pheromones that are given off when someone is angry or stressed, and have seventeen recognizable facial expressions – while dogs only have sixteen. The seventeenth, not shared with dogs, is most likely disdainful eye rolling, mostly behind our backs.
A testament to the intelligence of horses is Clever Hans, the horse who could answer questions with numerical answers by tapping his hoof, such as “If the eighth day of a month comes on a Thursday, what is the date on the following Friday?” Hans, and Orlov Trotter, answered with stunning accuracy – but only when the questioner and audience knew the answer as well. It turns out that the horse was simply reading extremely subtle emotional cues, like the viewers shifting in their seats as he approached the number “sixteen.” If Hans was blindfolded, he would just go on tapping forever.
Recent research has suggested that the intelligence of dogs is on par with that of a two year old human… which explains a few things about their personality. Though it doesn’t sound impressive, it means they can understand an average of 150 human words, and can intentionally deceive both humans and other dogs to get treats. Sneaky pooches. They can also do simple math, and notice errors in calculations such as 1+1=3, which basically puts them ahead of me in terms of smarts.
So, which one is more intelligent? Horses are scarily intuitive, and dogs learn and remember at a surprising rate. Perhaps it is enough to keep in mind that both canines and equines have a lot more going on in their noggins than we give them credit for.