What Your Horse’s Whorl Says About Him

Sofia has a double whole

Brain and skin tissue come from the same layer of cells. Which means the development of these two things are related. I cannot help but wonder if the same could be true with other animals or humans. Does a widow’s peak really mean something? Very interesting research. ~ HfH

From: The Horse Channel
By: Anna O’Brien

Scientific research backs up some of the old notions about horses’ hair patterns.

Sofia has a double whole

Sofia, one of the horses rescued on Galveston Island in early 2015, has a double whorl

Most people have heard of a cowlick – that stubborn tuft of hair that just won’t behave itself no matter how much gel or hairspray you throw at it. Although the name originates from the fact that if you have one, it looks like you’ve been licked on the head by a cow, horses (and cows!) can have hair issues, too. And even if your horse doesn’t care whether he’s having a bad hair day or not, there is some serious science connecting a horse’s hair whorl and his brain development.

Hair whorls in horses, also called rosettes or trichoglyphs, are usually small swirls of hair on the face, but they can also be found along the flank, neck, or stomach. Hair whorls are considered a permanent form of identification for horses since a whorl at birth does not change in location or direction during a horse’s lifetime. As such, whorls are often noted on official paperwork like a Coggins test. Each horse’s hair whorl pattern is different and is a valuable way to identify a horse that doesn’t have any white markings.

For centuries, equestrians have noticed horses with certain types of whorls tend to behave in certain ways. For example, horses with double whorls on the face tend to be high-strung or overly reactive to novel stimuli. Recent research has determined this isn’t just folklore. This is basic brain development. Skin and brain tissue come from the same layer of cells, called the ectoderm, during embryonic development. As embryonic cells migrate to form a fetus, skin and brain cells are closely intertwined, particularly at the scalp. This interconnectedness explains why certain hair formations seem to be related to personality.

A study from the University of Limerick in Ireland in 2008 demonstrated that horses with clockwise hair whorls were significantly more likely to move toward the right, or begin a gait with the right-sided hooves—in essence, these horses were right handed. And the horses with counterclockwise whorls? They were more likely to move left.

Dr. Temple Grandin, professor of animal science at Colorado State University and author of the best-selling book Animals in Translation, first noticed a connection between the location of a bull’s hair whorl and whether the animal was excitable when handled by humans. Studies showed that location—meaning above, between, or below the eyes—as well as shape of the whorl could be, to some extent, a predictor of excitable behavior in cattle. Other studies have showed the same in horses: those with whorls on the forehead above the eyes tend to be more excitable and less manageable than those with lower whorls.

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2 Comments
  • Daryl

    Very nice to see that some things can be explained and others can’t .

    May 23, 2015
  • Margo Nielsen

    Judging a horse to buy or adopt just became much more complicated!

    May 28, 2015