Folklore has long circulated attributing equine personality traits to the position of whorls on their heads and body.
The Bedouin people of Arabia would use this knowledge to help them predict temperament over 2000 years ago, as did gypsy clans in Europe and Native American horsemen.
In modern times these beliefs are still shared and many trainers will use whorl patterns to predict a horses personality.
So what can our horses whorls reveal about them, and is there any science to back up these old tales?
A whorl is any patch of hair growing in the opposite direction to the hair around it. They often look like a pinwheel, or spokes coming out from a centre.
Though they are commonly found on the face they can form anywhere on the body. They are unique to each horse so are frequently used to identify individuals.
A whorl set to the left, or going anti-clockwise, indicates a horse that favours their left side. They are more likely to spook to the left.
Whorls set to the right, or in clockwise direction, are found on horses favouring their right. They are more likely to spook right.
A single whorl, centred between the eyes indicates an easy-going and pleasant animal.
A single whorl, centred below eye level indicates an intelligent yet mischievous nature.
A single long whorl between the eyes and/or extending below is found on extra friendly and agreeable horses.
Single or multiple whorls set high on the forehead are present on extra sensitive and reactive animals.
Multiple facial whorls indicate a horse with a complicated personality.
Multiple whorls and cowlicks all over the body are seen on flighty, hard to work with horses.
Yes. Several studies have, in fact, been completed on the topic of whorls on animals and their correlation with personality.
Animal scientist Temple Grandin completed a double-blind study in the 1990’s observing cattle behaviour in a squeeze chute and their whorls. They also observed the ‘handedness’ of the cattle.
Her study confirmed a correlation between whorl positioning and the personalities and favoured sides of the cattle. Particularly, those with high facial whorls were considerably more likely to put up a fight.
To complement her study with equine specific data Grandin reviewed prior studies and data to see if there was a correlation between whorls and horse performance.
The review showed horses with multiple facial whorls were more reactive but also higher performers. High performing jumping and race horses had twice the percentage of double whorls than other disciplines.
Hair and skin – and thus whorls - form in the early stages of gestation and at the same time as the formation of the nervous system and brain.
Facial whorls are believed to be points where stretching has occurred of the scalp over the underlying brain structures. They are expressions on the skin of foetal brain development.
Therefore, it is scientifically plausible that there is indeed a correlation between your horses personality and the position of their whorls.
Don’t let the location of whorls put you off a horse though! Rather consider it is as useful information when deciding how to approach a particular horses training.