While intelligence can be a subjective concept, studies on types of intelligence or learning can nonetheless help us understand how another thinks or experiences the world.
“Social learning” is the ability to learn a task or behaviour by watching someone else. Until this recent study by the University of Nürtingen in Germany, horses were considered incapable of social learning. “Social learning is usually considered to be a sign of higher intelligence, and therefore horses were put low on the “intelligence” scale.”
To most of us with horses, this comes as no surprise. Horses are extremely social animals, and their entire culture depends on their ability to learn from their peers and elders. It’s even a common practice to train young horses with the help of older, more experienced horses to show them the ropes and keep them calm. I’ve successfully taught my mare something, then watched her march over to her little brother over the fence and literally show him what she just learned, like she was saying “Look, Sparrow, THIS is what she’s been after!” After that, his comprehension of the task at hand took a large leap forward. In my experience, horses have a deep and complex intelligence, in large part due to their social structures.
Still, it’s nice to get scientific back-up, even if it is a little superfluous. Read the full study here: Horses show ability for social learning in study