Mythbuster Monday: Whorls Tell A Horse’s Personality and Performance Level

On Mythbuster Monday, we tackle a variety of equestrian myths to either bust or confirm. Today’s discussion: Do whorls in a horse’s hair tell about his personality and performance level?

It’s Mythbuster Monday, where Horse Nation dives into different equestrian myths and provides research-based evidence to either bust or confirm those myths. Today’s topic: Do whorls in a horse’s coat tell about his personality and performance level? What is a whorl? What are the personality traits connected with different whorls? Read further to find out!

Myth: Whorls tell a horse’s personality and performance level

Myth or Fact: Both

A whorl is a patch of hair that goes in the opposite direction from the other fur. Whorls are most often found on the stomach, face, poll, neck, chest, and flanks, but can also be found in other areas. Whorls are also referred to as crowns, swirls, trichoglyphs, or cowlicks. They can grown clockwise or counterclockwise.

But do these patches of hair indicate a horse’s personality and/or performance level?

Cowgirl Magazine put out an article called Whorl-ology 101. In this article they described the whorls and what each one meant:

  • A whorl located between the eyes indicates the horse is easy going and uncomplicated.
  • If the whorl is to the left of the face, the horse is slightly complicated but still trustworthy.
  • Set to the right and it means the horse is less cooperative.
  • Whorls that are higher on the forehead mean the horse is intelligent and more reactive.
  • A single whorl several inches below the eyes means the horses like to amuse themselves — these are the horses that open stall doors and escape cross ties.
  • Long whorls that extend below the eye mean the horse is friendly and agreeable.
  • Multiple whorls means the horse has multiple personalities.
  • High and tight side-by-side whorls indicate a super focused and talented horse. These horses are a challenge when placed in the wrong hands.
  • Two whorls on top of one another mean the horse has mood swings and is unpredictable.
  • If the horse has a “Z pattern” whorl, this shows the horse is dangerous and violent.
  • The direction of the whorl tells if the horse is a leftie or righty.

One article by Horsemanship Journal states that there were huge steps forward in whorl analysis earlier this decade when Temple Grandin, PhD began researching them. She decided to test if the correlations between whorls and personality held up to testing. In her studies she found that there was definitely a correlation between position of whorls and temperament. She states that whorls and temperament are connected because hair whorl patterns are developing on the fetus at the same time the brain is forming. She also brings it to the readers’ attention that in humans, those with developmental disabilities usually have a high incidence of whorl patterns.

Leader in the western pleasure industry, Jerry Stanford, formed his theories from studying western pleasure horses. He studied conformation, herd behavior, grazing and movement posture. From his study, he felt he could pick out which weanlings and yearlings in his pastures were destined for greatness just by its whorls.

Horse and Rider’s article, “Do Horse Hair-Whorl Patterns Indicate Temperament,” states there is scientific evidence that hair whorls are linked to temperament characteristics. Linda Tellington-Jones sent out a questionnaire to 1,500 horse owners and found whorls were linked to behavior characteristics.  She states that utilizing the swirl information aids in finding the best approach to a horse’s training.

The article also states that horsemen Benny Guitron and Bob Avila were not able to prove the theory on whorls. They make it apparent that they both have had some great horses that had undesirable whorls. Anne Marie Hiller, United States Equestrian Federation and Arabian horse judge, stated that she found horses with whorls all over were nutty and flighty.

Genetics expert, Phillip Sponenberg, DMV, PhD, states that the correlation between whorls and personality and performance is not out of the realm of personality, but due to individual variation, the theory only works sometimes.

Overall, the correlation between personality and performance level and hair whorls is inconclusive. Some research has shown an association between the two while others have not. Depending on the placement of the whorl, how many there are, and how tight they are may indicate different traits.

Do you have an equine myth you’d like us to tackle? If so, send it our way! Email your suggestions to [email protected]. Put Mythbuster Monday in your subject line.