Bonding Ideas

Horse Whorls


Looking at whorls is a time honored method of judging a horses temperament.

Long held as superstition, there is science to back it up. Hair and brain are formed from the same fetal cell layer. Because they form at the same it makes sense that as a fetus develops the hair growing over the brain, and body, can shows signs of what is going on underneath.

The placement of a whorl on a horse’s face can tell us a lot about their personality.


If it is up high, above eye level, the horse will be very smart, energetic, and outgoing. An extrovert.

To the right, our right as we face them that is, shows a right brained horse, reactive, emotional, nervous, defensive.

A whorl placed below eye level should be an introvert, sometimes considered lazy or stubborn they are smart, easily bored, and can be distrustful. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a mule that didn’t have a low whorl.

A whorl that sits on the left side of the face, again our left, means a left brain horse. One who is confident and willful. The farther a whorl is from center the more pronounced the effect will be.

A center whorl is the most common and doesn’t tell us a whole lot. With that type of whorl we need to look at the shape of the head, ear, eyes, all the other clues we are given.

When we get into two or more whorls it gets even more complicated. They can show tendencies from two very different brain types. Whorls that are stacked, one above the other, show a horse that is an introvert and an extrovert. Side by side whorls will be right brain, reactive and hot, as well as left brain, unreactive and confident.

Charlotte Cannon in Swirlology, says that “Many Grand Prix horses, in both dressage and jumping, and successful eventers have very high, side-by-side double swirls. This type of double swirl seems to give the ability to hyper focus. These horses are challenging and gritty, like most double swirl horses, but the ability to hyper focus and not back down from a challenge can be an asset in professional hands. The side-by-side swirls do give the horse access to both sides of its brain in a flash, ‘wickedly fast thinker’ is a description often given to them.” I have one and must say his concentration is intense! He seems to fit this perfectly.

The more whorls the more interesting the horse, but the people I’ve talked to who have horses with three or four or more whorls have loved them.

Whorls can pop up in some unexpected places on the face. Some horses have whorls on the sides of their jaws, others on their cheeks, some on the temples. Wherever there is a whorl there is some point of focus.

A whorl on the cheek according to tradition and folklore is a sign of debt and ruin. I have found many horses with this whorl who have teeth issues. There is usually good reason for superstitions. Is it possible that without modern equine dentistry that the dental issues caused these horses to be bad keepers bringing debt and ruin to owners trying to make a living with them?

It is not only the hair on a horses heads that can tell us about the horse but whorls found anywhere on the body.

With normal development whorls should be nearly perfectly even from one side to the other. Whorls on the flanks, chest and crest of the neck are the most common. Whorls can show up anywhere though.

Sometimes horses will have a random whorl on the side of their neck, in the girth area, or even the withers. Whorls on the sides of the withers are known as a coffin whorl because, according to superstition, the rider of a horse with such a whorl will die in the saddle. If we sit back and look at things objectively we can find logical reasons why a horse with a whorl on its withers would be uncomfortable under saddle and cause them to be randomly explosive.

When whorls aren’t even from side to side a horse will often tend to curve towards the side with the whorl and have trouble flexing in the direction away from it. They will prefer leads in the direction of the whorl and have other imbalances. Sometimes instead of an obvious reaction they will simply be unpredictable, spooky, or reactive. This is because they are unbalanced instead of any desire to cause trouble or be purposefully obstinate.

All horses are individuals. With careful thought and effort we can find the best ways to work with them no matter what whorls they have. A whorl is not a way to see if a horse is ‘bad’ instead, checking whorls is one way for us to gather clues. Those clues can help us figure out a horses temperament and suitability for both us and what ever discipline we are hoping to pursue.

Here’s a handy guide to locate and record your horse’s facial whorls…




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.