Horses are smarter than we realize
Many people that think horses are not the brightest crayon in the box, that they are simple-minded animals without much in the way of intelligence. But researchers are proving this widespread notion wrong.
A 2010 study by Carol Sankey of the University of Rennes and colleagues revealed more about the horse's memory and intelligence than we previously thought. With 23 horses in their study, the scientists tested the horses' response to positive reinforcement by a trainer. A female trainer worked with the horses on 41 different actions. The researchers found that horses getting positive reinforcement picked up training faster and had fewer "bad" behaviors than other horses. What's more, even after spending eight months apart, the horses would gravitate toward that original trainer, remembering the positive association with the specific person.
Another study by Jessica Lampe, James Madison University psychology alumni, found that horses use input from several of their senses to identify familiar and unfamiliar people. "During these tests," reports James Madison University, "Lampe examined differences in horse behavior during 'congruent' and 'non-congruent conditions.' When there is congruency, the voice, smell, image, taste, and sound of a person matched, while during non-congruency, one of these senses was not consistent. Lampe found that horses were more interested in instances of non-congruency... Like humans, they looked at interesting stimuli longer. The results showed that horses integrate information they receive from all of their senses to recognize individuals."
Meanwhile, Evelyn Hanggi of the Equine Research Foundation in Aptos, California has proven a long-standing assumption about horse intelligence wrong. Horse and Rider reports, "The long-held theory is that horses lack interocular transfer -- they can't transfer information from one side of the brain to the other. But Hanggi has proven differently. 'We found that horses had no trouble recognizing objects with one eye that they had previously only learned about with the other (interocular transfer),' Hanggi says... Their ongoing research continues to redefine how horses learn."
The notion of horses as unintelligent beasts of burden is long being continually eroded by research, and we are finding that this species is far more clever than often assumed.