The section on mounted combat in the Player's Handbook says:

While you're mounted, you have two options. You can either control the mount or allow it to act independently. Intelligent creatures, such as dragons, act independently.

So, any mount can be allowed to act independently. However intelligent creatures always act independently.

However, I cannot find any rules outlining rules or guidelines for what qualifies a creature as intelligent (for this purpose or any other).

As a point of reference, the lowest intelligence score I can find for a dragon (white dragon wyrmling) is 5.

So, how do I determine if a mount is too intelligent to be controllable according to the rules? At what point or under what conditions is a creature considered intelligent?

If there are no rules, I'll accept experience-backed guidance from people who have had to deal with this issue before and had a certain method work or not.


Firstly that's not what it means. All mounts can be allowed to act independently. The dumbest horse in the universe doesn't need someone to tell it what to do, and can act independently, without needing orders to walk around, eat, etc. All mounts can act independently.

However, “[i]ntelligent creatures […] act independently” — always. You can't control a dragon mount, you can only coordinate with this intelligent ally who happens to be carrying you. Intelligent creatures can't be controlled like a trained horse, they are asked nicely, bargained with, threatened, or otherwise encouraged to serve you as a mount.

How smart is an “intelligent creature”?

There's no strict rule for this — but when you understand why intelligent mounts can't be controlled and always act independently, it's easy to make such a determination. If it's smart enough to be the rider's ally rather than be a domesticated animal, it's an intelligent creature.

  • Dragon? Intelligent.
  • Horse? Not intelligent.
  • Unicorn? Intelligent.
  • Awakened horse? Intelligent.
  • Druid ally shapeshifted into a horse? Intelligent! Darn straight, that druid isn't taking orders through the reins.
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose I appreciate that, because I had the same question without realizing it. \$\endgroup\$ – Asher Mar 1 '18 at 18:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ Actually, I changed my mind. I think leaving the mistake in there would do more harm than good ultimately, so I have edited it. You may want to rephrase your answer a bit when you get a chance. (You could probably just remove the first sentence actually.) \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Mar 1 '18 at 18:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose Eh, it's discouraged to correct questions based on corrections in the answers (correcting misapprehensions embedded in questions is a normal part of answers' jobs), but being in a conflict of interest on that point here, I don't feel like doing anything about it. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 2 '18 at 1:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie darn it. Sorry. I did look in meta but didn't see anything about it. I can revert the change if you think it would be best \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Mar 2 '18 at 1:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Do note that an intelligent mount could certainly choose to take orders via the reins (or whatever other communication system there is) they simply have not been conditioned to do so unquestioningly. Arguably even "unintelligent" mounts should refuse some orders depending on their training and how much they trust the rider. I dare you to get on a real horse and try to ride it off a clearly-visible cliff, or into a raging fire. Anything with an intelligence greater than 1 should have some level of self-preservation instinct. \$\endgroup\$ – Perkins Mar 2 '18 at 19:52

There are no rules, but Int 3 seems like a dividing line in 5e

The following spells seem to treat Int 3 or less as unintelligent:

  • Animal Messenger: "If the beast's Intelligence is 4 or higher, the spell fails. "
  • Awaken: "must have either no Intelligence score or an Intelligence of 3 or less"

It seems like a good enough guideline, but I wouldn't necessarily label it a truism in all cases in regard to mounts. Expect table variance.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I can't provide a quote, but if I'm correct, 4 INT is also the threshold at which creatures generally gain the ability to speak (or at least understand, should they have no physical means of speaking) languages. \$\endgroup\$ – PixelMaster Mar 1 '18 at 21:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ This jives with SSDs answer as well. Horse no. Awakened Horse (int 4), yes. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 1 '18 at 21:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ Another effect that references this is Detect Sentience from the intellect devourer. It makes this ruling a lot more potent since the trait is literally designed for identifying sentient creatures \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Mar 2 '18 at 20:36

I don't see anything in 5e that describes the difference, but in 3.5e an ability score of 1-2 was unintelligent and required Animal Handling checks. If the score was 3 or higher, you needed to make Diplomacy checks. I would use that as a base unless there is a better answer out there.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I didn't downvote, but people probably downvoted because you're talking about 3.5e. That's usually the cause, from my experience. \$\endgroup\$ – PixelMaster Mar 1 '18 at 21:04

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