In which I investigate a little bit of voodoo for myself

 Years ago, I got impatient with a Linda Tellington-Jones book that asserted that a horse's behavior could be predicted by--and essentially dictated by--the whorls of facial hair.  

Photo stolen from THIS ARTICLE 
I think Linda T-J's t-touch and massage techniques are extremely valuable.  But the hair whorl thing was a little too twinkle-twinkle-ding-dong for my taste. It seemed too much like voodoo, like phrenology gone very weird.

But apparently there's something to it.  If you like your science more science-y than just taking Linda Tellington-Jones' word for things, you might be interested to know that scientist Temple Grandin teamed up with a horse trainer and some behavioral researchers to investigate things.  They worked with cows (cows are cheaper than horses) and discovered that hair whorl position on cow heads can be indicative of calmness (or lack of calmness) that may be of value in selecting breeding cattle.  Here's a link to the abstract for that research, and a cool article about the process HERE.

If you really get into this, track down a journal called Applied Animal Behaviour Science.  The publication is a researcher's dream, addressing fascinating topics like defecation behaviors of cattle housed in differing situations and cognitive enrichment environments for domestic pigs. Who even knew these things exist?  Science wonks, apparently.

On page 244 of the June 2007 issue begins a report from Aleksandra Gorecka, entitled "A note on behaviour and heart rate in horses differing in facial hair whorl," describing the process of handling and startling a bunch of horses with "suddenly appearing novel objects".   Here's the link to the abstract.  You can also read a summary of the project HERE.

My first question for the researchers:  what did they consider a "suddenly appearing novel object" ?

Cookies?  clowns?  clowns with chainsaws?  clowns with white plastic grocery bags?


The researchers used 31 horses that had been raised on a Polish forest reserve with minimal interaction with humans prior to the study.  They also used 22 horses raised in conventional stables in Poland.

Here's what they reported:
  • Horses with high whorls were significantly harder to handle than those with middle or low whorls. 
  • Horses with double or elongated whorls were more cautious, but not easier to startle and not harder to handle...but hold on.  Only forest-raised horses in this group had double/elongated whorls.  So, how much of the caution was related to living feral, and how much to a cowlick?  Hmmm.  
  • Researchers didn't find any correlation between heart rate and whorl position.  That's interesting.  So, horses might act outwardly differently, but inwardly were not reacting differently.  Hmmm.


Now what?

I thought I'd do a little investigation of my own.  So I wandered around with my camera phone and took pictures of cooperative-but-confused horses...specifically, pictures of their foreheads.

I won't do any interpretation--just description of the whorls I see in the photos.  Maybe folks who follow this stuff will jump in and tell us what the swirls and twirls "mean" in terms of trainability, curious v suspicious nature, and anything else you might expect to see with each individual.

Share your own photos too, please!  Maybe we can learn some stuff.

Puss - Large single whorl in the middle,
slightly higher than her eyes

Mama - Large single whorl in the middle, even with the eyes
plus a small single whorl very high, at the base of the forelock

Flower - large single whorl in the middle, between the eyes
plus a small single whorl very high, at the base of the forelock

Joe - a "feather" mark between the eyes, and a small
double whorl very high at the base of the forelock

Ross - nothing, nada, zilch (except mud)

Fee - large single whorl in the middle, between the eyes
plus a small double whorl at the edge of the forelock

Okay, go!


  1. er, there is no such thing as nothing, nada, zilch. It's actually a very high whorl buried in the forelock.. I spent many years doing ID cards for Thoroughbreds and they ALL have one (card would be rejected if you didn't record it, so I got quite good at finding them).

  2. Your horses are all pretty much average, don't you hate to hear that? Except the one with no swirl that is very interesting. Joe's feather should mean that he likes people, a lot. As near as I can tell the swirl at the base of the forelock might mean they are thinkers. How did I do?
    In order to really tell anything the pictures would need to be full frontal of the head including ears and a profile shot. I love this stuff, apparently I'm the only one? I used to start colts and they usually fit their markings, plus learned many that aren't in the book. Uneven whorls, on the flanks chest and so on, show a decided unevenness in the horses sidedness. This article talks more about that stuff
    And my analyses of my latest horse here
    This is so much fun, hope I'm not the only one to play.

  3. I was wondering what all the Xs are on Mag's markings description in his passport. I wondered if they marked whorls.

  4. Interesting! I bought that book years ago and never read it in depth, mostly just flipped through to see what my horse was, and she actually has three swirls on her forehead. Basically all signs in the book pointed to a complicated and sensitive horse, which is definitely Jazz

  5. There is so something to it. I look at everyone's whorls when I work on them and I can totally tell you that double whorl horses are crazy smart and somewhat diabolical, and single whorl horses are quite a lot more straightforward (they might be nuts or they might be calm, but they don't have the dual personality that double whorls can have). I've also seen a couple of those zig zag types - one whorl down low and one up high on the opposite side of the face - and those ones can really be loose cannons.

  6. Faith has one whorl below eye level and one high, just below her forelock hair. That should make her calm one minute and wildly not calm the next... Which she does seem to be, a bit. She's bold and inquisitive, but prone to explosions. I can only hope experience will overlay that! Her body whorls are symmetrical though, so that's good.
    Joe has one whorl, dead centre. Mr Cool, so that fits. Interestingly, his crest whorls don't line up and the one that is closer to his shoulder is on his right, which is his more clubby foot, but his more favoured canter lead...
    Mac and Angel are dead simple single whorl horses.
    Savannah is a double whorl horse and she has flipped from dead slow to VERY forward since we have had her. She doesn't "flip" in the same way that Faith seems to but she does have a pretty decent temper on her and definitely "loses her shit" occasionally, but it comes out as being stroppy rather than panicky.

  7. Arya has a double whorl, but as far as I can tell, she doesn't really match the descriptions about what that might entail. She's pretty straightforward and VERY laid back. She's lazy, and will make her opinion about work known, but gets right back to working willingly after asking and then me responding with "nope, this is what we're doing right now, get over it." She's not super spooky, and spooks in place more often than not. She's fairly smart, but not overly so, that I can tell (has escaped her pasture, but more from brute force than cleverness). So I don't know. Unless I'm just not smart enough to read her, I don't think she's living up to her double whorls. :-) (My blog post with whorl pictures is at


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