Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Whirls, Swirls, and Whorls--Horse Personality

Several registries such as the American Quarter Horse Association and the Arabian Horse Association use whirls, or swirled circular patterns of hair, as a way to identify a particular horse.  FEIF, The International Federation of Icelandic Horse Associations, does the same thing.  Below you can see Blessi's international passport and the location of his whirls and blaze details used for identification purposes.

Many people believe that the location of horse whirls can provide insight into horse personality.  Based on lore passed down from her grandfather as verified by a statistical survey of owners of 1500 horses, Linda Tellington-Jones devised a method of analyzing horse personality based on whirls.  Linda cautions that whirls need to be read as part of an analysis of all facial features.

Here are some of her findings (pp. 40 - 46):
  • A whirl above or between eyes is fairly common and generally indicates a fairly uncomplicated horse but there are some variations.  As you face the horse, a whirl a little to the left indicates that the horse is more complicated but trustworthy.  A whirl  a little to the right indicates less cooperation.
  • A single whirl below the eyes generally indicates an interesting horse with above average intelligence.
  • A single long whirl between the eyes usually indicates a friendly, people oriented horse; if not, check the horse for pain.
  • A horse with two swirls side by side on the forehead may indicated a more reactive and unpredictable horse.
 Linda's sister, Robyn Hood raises Icelandics.  Robyn notes that Icelandics tend to have more double swirls than other horse breeds.  These horses tend to be more emotional but are still less emotional than other breeds.  Icelandics tend to have more facial swirls in different locations but this does not seem to correlate with a more complicated nature.  Icelandic lore states that swirls on the neck or crest tend to indicate good swimming and water abilities.

Source:  Tellington-Jones, L.  (1995).  Getting in TTouch: Understand and Influence Your Horse's Personality, Trafalgar Square Publishing, North Pomfret, VT.

Dr. Temple Grandin has also conducted research in this area and found a definite link between whorls and personality for cattle.  "Cattle also have hair whorls on the forehead similar to horses. We conducted research on hair whorl positions and temperament in cattle because it was easy to find large numbers of cattle with similar genetics and similar early experiences. In a study of 1,500 cattle at a commercial feedlot, we found that cattle with hair whorls above the eyes fought more in a squeeze chute during vaccinations, and were clearly more frightened by restraint compared to cattle Selecting Whole Animals."
Source: http://www.grandin.com/references/horse.genetics.html

Of course, meaning can be attached to body swirls also.  I find it interesting that Blessi has very uniform body swirls--one on the center under his neck and one at the side of each of his four legs.  I have no idea what that means.  But his forehead swirl is above the eyes and slightly to the right--and I do have to say he can be a tad resistant from time to time--especially if he is convinced he is right.