I am really loving the pictures and stories. I think this is a really fun topic, and it is also great to see everyone's horses too.
I will post a little bit about some of the thoughts behind whorl patterns that Linda Tellington-Jones studied and gave her opinion on the subject.
Here is a link to an article that was published about a horse trainer who got to work with Temple Grandin regarding whorl theory (whorl theories were started by Linda Tellington-Jones many years ago, I want to say in the 1960s).
To fully understand whorls and their effect on your horse, think about how energy moves through a horse’s body. Created in the hindquarter of the horse (the engine), energy is sent forward toward the nose travelling through the hindquarters, loin and back to the top of the neck, through the poll and down the front of the face to the nose.
The theory goes that whorls can have the effect of allowing, stopping or altering this energy by focusing it or muddling it depending upon the type of whorl at the given spot. Types of possible whorls are Simple, Tufted, Linear, Crested and Feathered. Energy flows exactly as the whorl appears.
If we picture energy like water it is easier to comprehend. Focused energy can be very powerful, like water cutting through rock. Muddled or dissipated energy can become stagnant and rot everything around it. Smooth flowing energy is clean, pure, easy to predict and control; but just like a beaver dam can stop up the flow of your creek and cause the water to start cutting new routes through the surrounding land, so can a whorl affect the flow of the energy you expect to flow smoothly through your horse.
As we know some horses have a lot of energy (water) flowing through them (Arabs, TBs etc), while others have but a trickle (drafts, some older style stock breeds, etc). A high energy horse with challenging whorls can be like the white rapids that cut through rock out west. They can get ‘stuck’ and dig deep holes that end in huge explosions. But that low energy horse with challenging whorls can spook or explode when enough energy bogs down too. Understanding the balance of energy in the body will really help you understand why whorls (other than on the forehead) are best in pairs.
Each whorl on one side should have a matching whorl on the opposite side of the body. Because whorls stop or slow down energy, it is very important that they be balanced and equal on both sides of the body for the horse to feel (energetically) balanced or straight. If they are uneven, energy will ‘hang up’ on one side and not the other. I have seen beautiful horses with an odd whorl (usually on the neck) on one side and not the other. Low energy horses may just stay bent toward the whorl and resist turning the other way and picking up both leads. A high energy horse can be super explosive and buck or bolt because they feel one side quite energized and the other side quite dead. This lack of harmony in one’s own body can be intensely frustrating and cause the horse to act out in grumpy or violent behaviors. Many times the horse will become lame in the foot closest to the odd whorl because energy, weight and pounding pool there.
A more subtle ‘out of balance’ issue occurs in most horses as few have perfectly balanced whorls. The horse will usually bend or turn more easily in the direction of the furthest back or longer whorl since energy flows from the back of the horse forward, and the first or bigger whorl will stop the energy first. A good rider can help these horses stretch and seem perfectly even. Obviously the closer to even the better, but awareness can help you help your horse become balanced energetically.
‘Reading’ whorls will give you a blueprint to the way energy is most likely to flow through the horse. Talented riders and trainers can feel this energy when they interface (ride or do groundwork) with a horse. A rider who has developed this sense of feeling energy and directing it can overcome tremendous issues! I have seen trainers so tuned into this feeling that a ‘normal’ whorl horse is just plain boring. Giving this rider knowledge and understanding of whorls could open the door to many more horses becoming better understood, better developed and better balanced so they can reach higher goals than ever before.
*The forehead whorl hair is the most influential because it is the first hair to develop and grow on the body in the embryonic fetus.
*A whorl directly between the eyes is normal. High whorls usually goes with a more active mind; lower whorls with a less active mind.
*The more focused the whorl, the more possible focus in the mind. The less focused the whorl, the less focused in the mind.
*Single whorls usually have a pretty consistent single personality, might be calm, might be crazy, but usually one predictable personality.
*Double or triple whorls indicate multiple personalities. Horses with multiple face whorls can be more complicated and can be more difficult to initially read and address appropriately. Multiple whorls will usually come out somewhere. The horse might be difficult to clip or trailer; might be petrified of ‘unreasonable’ specific things; might be fine several days in a row, then explode out of the blue; might be accident prone. They may require more patience, time, skill and understanding to train/develop. They may surprise/let you down at an important moment by switching personalities, especially by going from confident to unconfident in the blink of an eye.
*Double whorls usually come in three varieties: side by side, on top of each other and ‘Z’ shaped.
*Many Grand Prix horses in both dressage and jumping have very high, very tight side-by-side double whorls. This type of double whorl seems to give the ability to hyper focus. These horses are challenging and gritty, like most double whorl horses, but the ability to hyper focus and not back down from a challenge can be an asset in professional hands.
*Double whorls on top of each other are tougher because their two personalities are many times extreme. Some of the words given are untrustworthy, unreliable, accident prone. They may be the horses that never realize their potential because something always seems to happen at a high pressure, critical moment. We have worked with some very nice horses with this whorl pattern but I must say each did have at least one of the challenging qualities in a heavy dose.
*I know two lovely horses with double whorls on top of each other that one would say are exceptions. But the first would manage to get hurt or tangled in something all the time, as if for attention. The other is a super fancy horse that was slated to be a multiple world champion western pleasure horse. I have watched him twice come all but ‘unhooked’ in the finals at the world show after being beautifully prepared. Both times he still got big prizes (once reserve world champion), but that number one spot just eludes him.
*Double whorls in a ‘Z’ shape can be a dangerous cat! I have known several horses with this face whorl pattern and they were ‘the horse your momma warned you about.’ Usually an extreme ‘Z’ whorl horse will have other ‘bad’ whorls elsewhere on his body. This is the most dangerous. One must be an excellent leader with this horse, but one must never be brutal or unfair. He will calculate and hurt you before you hurt him. Grouchy about food and their personal space, best to pick your battles and accept it if you have chosen one that he will not surrender. Not loving pets, these horses will tolerate a specific job and do it well if they agree it is reasonable. Check for body pain issues (as a root to grumpy mood) before dismissing them as bad minded as these horses have a very high tolerance for pain and will attack before showing weakness.
*Double (or more) whorls will not take the pounding and criticism that many single whorl horses will endure. One must be fair and just in all requests. Single middle whorl horses are more predictable for riders who are first learning and need a more forgiving attitude. Leave the complicated whorls to more experienced riders.
1. A single swirl between or above the eyes: This pattern and position is the standard one displayed by the majority of the horses in our studies and in my observations. It indicates a horse with a generally uncomplicated nature, but there are variations. Sometimes swirls are set a little to one side or the other. With swirls set to the left as you face the animal, the horse will tend to be a touch more complicated but still trustworthy. Horses that have a swirl set a bit to the right of center may be less cooperative than those with the pattern in the center or to the left. In general, swirls of this sort are less indicative of character than the more complex patterns.
2. A single swirl several inches below the eyes: I have found that over 80 percent of horses with this configuration are unusually imaginative and intelligent. They like to amuse themselves and can be quite a nuisance. I’ve known of horses that turned on water faucets, opened stall doors to free themselves and other horses, untied complicated knots, and found ways to escape the pasture. These horses are usually of above-average intelligence and interesting characters to deal with.
3. A single, long swirl that may be between the eyes or extend below: Indicates a horse that is friendly and particularly enjoys relating to people. Over the past twenty years I’ve repeatedly found that when horses with this swirl are unfriendly, it is because they are in pain or have been abused.
4a & b. Two swirls adjoining, either one above the other or side by side: These can be above, between, or below the eyes and are sometimes set at an angle to each other. The information to be gained by reading this pattern has proven to be of particular value to riders and trainers over the years. Horses with this combination tend to be more emotional and overreactive than average. They tend to become upset without apparent reason, and at unexpected moments. When such horses blow up, the best way to handle them is to back off and allow them to settle. Punishing them doesn’t help; in fact it usually only aggravates the behavior more and can even bring on more resistance. I’ve found that this evaluation holds true about 70 percent of the time. However, a horse with two adjoining swirls can be a great horse. Some of my very best show horses have had this configuration. But generally, horses with this pattern are not ideal for inexperienced riders. Before I developed the Tellington Method, I usually recommended that horses with two swirls adjoining be ridden only experienced riders. Now, however, with patience and using the Method, you’ll find you can almost always eliminate undesirable, overreactive tendencies. Robyn Hood, my sister and inspiring advisor, raises Icelandic horses. She has observed that Icelandic horses tend to have more double swirls than other breeds. Some of them, she says, do seem to be somewhat emotional, but less so than other breeds with the same pattern. Robyn has also noticed that Icelandic horses have a lot more swirls in general on different parts of their heads, like the cheeks and the sides of the face just above the mouth. In these horses, the frequency of the swirls doesn’t seem to correspond with the complexity of the horse to the same degree as it does in other breeds. Interestingly, Icelandic lore has it that when Icelandic horses have swirls on the neck or crest, they make good swimmers. This is useful in that country with its dangerous rivers and shifting tides.
5a, b & c. Three swirls close together on the forehead (not up under the forelock): Triple swirls are rare; very few were reported in the survey. However, from my own observations in the ensuing years, I’ve seen that, in geldings and mares, the triple swirl indicates a complex individual but not an unpredictable one. Stallions, however, are another story entirely—about 80 percent of the stallions I’ve observed with this marking have exhibited unreliable, often dangerous behavior. Though most rare, I have seen cases of multiple swirls on the face, and would venture to say that such patterns would tend to indicate complex horses. Many years ago I was a judge at a horse show in California, and in the line-up I noticed a small, liver chestnut mare that had an amazing 16 swirls on her head. It turned out that she was a very successful junior jumper, but her owner, a 15-yearold boy, was the only one who could ride her. The young man said she had been very difficult to train initially, but now she was very attached to him and would do anything for him.