Hair whorl (horse)
A hair whorl is a patch of hair growing in the opposite direction of the rest of the hair. Hair whorls can occur on animals with hairy coats, and are often found on horses and cows. Locations where whorls are found in equines include the stomach area, the face, stifle areas, and sometimes on the hocks. Hair whorls in horses are also known as crowns, swirls, trichoglyphs, or cowlicks and can be either clockwise or counterclockwise in direction of growth. One study has found that horses can be shown to have left- or right-footed lateral motion from the direction of growth (clockwise or counterclockwise) of their cowlicks.
Although the field of linking whorls to behavior is generally considered a pseudoscience, one study of 219 horses that race, show jump, or event the following results have been found, “104 left-footed horses, researchers found 78 or 75 percent has anticlockwise hair whorls. And out of 95 that favored their right side, 64 or 67 percent had clockwise whorls.” This information has since been applied to breeding racehorses to run straighter.
A study was done by Poland Scientists involving Konik horses, and they discovered a link between the location and the shape of hair whorls adjacent to the eyes of a horse with how it responds to handling and unfamiliar objects. From recorded observations horses that had a single whorl located above their eyes were more difficult to handle. Then the horses that also had a single whorl but located below or right in between their eyes were easier to handle. Whorls that were found to be elongated or doubled acted the most cautious when coming up to an unfamiliar object. They looked longer and were slower to approaching then the single whorled horses.
On June 23, 2008, Irish researchers also found the same outcome when it came to horse whorls. Right-footed horses were more likely to have whorls growing in clockwise circles and left-handed horses more likely to have their whorls growing counterclockwise.
Different cultures and breeds have different beliefs about the meaning of whorls, with theories based on location and direction of the whorl.
There are many different types of whorls:
Simple: hairs draw into a single point from all directions
Tufted: hairs converges and piles up into a tuft
Linear: hair growing in opposite directions meet along the same line vertically
Crested: hair growing in opposite directions meet to form a crest
Feathered: hair meets along a line but at an angle to form a feathered pattern
The theories that hair whorls could describe various physical and personality characteristics in horses have been around for thousands of years. There is little scientific verification for any of these theories and the field is largely considered pseudoscience.
Bedouin horsemen used whorls to determine the value of horses for sale. One Arabian has been recorded with 40 whorls on his body, although the average horse has around six. Bedouins looked for whorls between the horses ears as a sign of swiftness, and if there was any on either side of the neck, they were known as the ‘finger of the Prophet’.
One legend of whorls is the ‘Prophet’s Thumbmark’, a small indentation in the horse’s neck. The legend is told thus: “Prophet Mohammed tested his horses by depriving them of water for several days. He then released them near a waterhole but before they reached it, he sounded his trumpet to summon them. Only five mares responded and returned to him, and these were kept for breeding. He pressed him thumb into their necks, leaving an indentation which they passed onto their offspring.” It has been said that if you ever have a horse that has the marking, they are blessed, and if that person’s thumb fits exactly in the indentation then you are the horse’s true owner.
Other Bedouin beliefs include:
- A whorl on the chest meant prosperity.
- A whorl on the girth was a sign of good fortune, and an increase in flocks
- A whorl on the flank was known as ‘spur whorls’ and if curved up meant safety in battle; if inclined downwards it meant prosperity. The Byerley Turk, a founding sire of the Thoroughbred breed, was said to have spur whorls and was never hurt in battle.
- The Whorl of the Sultan was located on the windpipe, and meant love and prosperity.
- Whorls above the eyes meant the master was to die of a head injury
- The whorl of the coffin was located close to the withers. If sloping downwards towards the shoulder it meant the rider would die in the saddle, probably in battle or from a gunshot.
- "Hair Reveals Horse Temperament". Horse Science News. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2006.05.013. Retrieved 2012-08-15.
- Oke, Stacey. "Link Between Facial Hair Whorls and Horse 'Handedness' Reported". The Horse. Retrieved 2012-08-15.
- "Horsewyse Magazine - Around the Whorl". Horsewyse.com.au. Retrieved 2012-08-15.