Are Horses Smarter than Cows? Let’s Compare

Last Updated on March 2, 2022 by Allison Price

The question of “are horses smarter that cows?” is subjective. However, I believe we can have a discussion about this topic without offending any bovine or horse community. Are horses smarter than cows?When comparing results from key metrics such as relative brain size, temperament, learning ability, and affinity to people, horses seem to have an advantage in intelligence.

Are Horses Smarter than Cows

Let’s take a look at some of the key metrics and comparisons used to try to answer the question.

Some background

Scientists have just recently discovered ways to assess intelligence in humans. It is quite a different kettle of fish when it comes to evaluating intelligence in animals.

Research has shown that certain species, such as whales and dolphins, have a higher intelligence level than we initially thought. Their intelligence may be comparable to ours!

Horses have traditionally been used as a work animal for mankind. Cows are more useful in the area of food production. Although oxen were used historically to pull heavy loads and wagons, that was about their only use as a working animal.

Horses are a working animal by nature and must be able to learn from and follow instructions from humans. Does that mean cows aren’t smart enough to learn?

Perhaps it is a better idea to compare the characteristics of each animal to help answer this question.

Relative brain size

Scientists have shown that brain size can influence intelligence by comparing brains of animals of similar sizes. This is called the encephalization quote (EQ). It is believed that the size of the brain often determines an animal’s ability learn.

This factor is determined by the brain weight to body ratio. The average cow weighs 465kg and has a brain of 423g. Therefore, we give cows a 5 out 10 average body weight!

Horses on the other side have an average weight of 521kg and a brain weight 655g. This category scores them an encouraging 8 out of 10.

This gives our horse friends an early advantage in intelligence!


Although temperament is not an indicator of intelligence, it can give us insight into their ability to learn.

Horses can be very strung, while others may have nervous dispositions. However, once they’ve determined who is safe, they are able to calm down. High strung temperament is more likely a result of breeding than an animal’s natural trait.

Cows don’t seem to be as interested in their surroundings and appear to live life in complete indifference. Their temperament is more belligerent than that of horses. Although some cows are more docile than others, it is not as common as horses.

Horses can also learn to feel at ease in any situation. They adjust their temperament to suit the situation after they learn there is no danger. Cows, on the other hand, are more focused and can use their size to get out of any situation they don’t like.

The term “bull in china shop” is a common way to describe the temperaments of horses and cows. The meaning of “horse” in the china shop is not the same.

Learning Ability

Although we have already mentioned the ability to learn in the previous section of this article, we will go into more detail here. Horses have a higher ability to assess situations and adjust behavior accordingly. They also seem to retain more information. If a horse knows where your treats are kept, it is possible to keep him from taking them day after day.

Cows, however, are slower to learn and retain this behavior.

Horses seem to have a far superior ability to learn tasks from people than cows. Although cows can be trained, horses seem to have a better understanding of this subject than the horses.

This section scores cows a 4 while horses get an emphatic 8.

Affinity to Humans

Humans are a part of the animal’s instinctive fear. Humans are the most important animal in the animal kingdom. In certain situations, it is possible for humans to look at lions, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a regular pastime.

Domestic animals have varying degrees of affinity for humans. This is why they should be afraid of other species! The animal’s level of affinity with man shows their ability to assess, learn, and change their behavior.

This ability has been demonstrated by horses to a higher degree than bovines. Horses are known to seek out companionship and can form long-lasting bonds with their owners. Horses can be tolerant of different people and still feel comfortable around them. This shows that horses can instinctively judge the human character.

Cows can be very hostile to humans and will often display the same instinctive fear as other animals. There have been cases in which cows have become close to people, but this is more of an exception than the norm.

This category scores a solid 5 for cows and a smart 9 for horses.

The Results

Let’s take a look at the results of our scientific evaluation and add up all scores!

Cow Score

Relative Brain Size Criteria5
Learning ability4
Human Affinity5

Our bovine friends now have an average score of 18!

Horse Score

Relative brain size8
Learning ability8
Human Affinity9

Our equine friends now have a 31-point total!


These results are conclusive! The results of our attempt to answer the question, “Are horses smarter than cattle?” show conclusively that horses have superior brainpower!

The cow community will not entertain any appeals – science is the only way to argue!

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!