Some people like ’em thic. Others prefer long and lean..
Maybe our preference for body type is subconsciously based more in a preference for temperament type than build. More than we realize at least.
Studies in cattle have long since shown that the size of bone directly correlates to temperament. The smaller the bone the higher strung the cattle. Thicker bone shows quieter cattle.
That same thing can be see when we look at horses. An easy comparison is draft horse to Arabian. Big slow easy going draft horses, small energetic, high strung Arabs.
But! We all say, we’ve known quiet trustworthy Arabs and crazy high strung draft horses!
Whorls, dished faces, and all sorts of other clues come into play and can influence the effects of thick or thin bone. The best place to judge horses by their thickness is between two that are otherwise equal. If two horses have a high whorl but we want to tell the difference between them. That is where looking at thickness is best used.
The measurement of the leg bone is one easy place to judge. We can also look at the head. A long narrow head is the equivalent of thin leg bones. It will show a sensitive refined horse with delicate sensibilities. Narrow ears show far more sensitivity than wide ears. Even narrow set ears show more energy than wide set ears.
The clarity that thick vs thin can provide us reaches as far as the horse’s hair.
A full thick mane, with lush forelock growth that covers the eyes and most of the head shows a quieter, steadier horse than thin hair. Thin, fine hair growth accompanies a more energetic, sensitive temperament.
All of this is relative and in comparison to a horse who has the same basic features and whorl. With that kept in mind, thick vs thin can be an eyeopening comparison to make!
Science is beginning to prove that whorls really are connected deeply to temperament.
Which we have known all along.
Between finding the genes behind the whorls and temperament, and clinical studies showing strong similarities between reactions of animals with matching whorl types they have covered correlation and causation.
We can be sure that whorls are related to temperament.
The question is how?
Knowing whorls and temperament are related is science.
Figuring out exactly what the whorls mean is art. There are the old stories that have been passed down. These are filled with superstition and the results of bad training combined with a lack of veterinary care. They give us plenty of whorls that are bad luck. Ones that show a rider will die in the saddle or a horse who will bring ruin. The descriptions of the whorls that cause these things are loose and open to interpretation. If people hold to them many good horses will be bypassed.
Because everyone rides and trains horses differently, and has their own preferences for temperament types, some whorls get labeled good or bad without a closer look at what it is we’re calling bad.
Then there is the effect that whorls across the body have on movement, which in turn affects behavior.
Whorls an a horse’s body show how the horse will move and what their conformation is like. When whorls aren’t balanced, not matched from side to side, the horse wont bend equally. When the major whorls are not matched it can lead to imbalance all the way through the body. When a horse doesn’t feel secure in their movement it can lead to behavior that feels resistant, spooky, or even bucking and bolting.
The complication and interaction of whorls all across a horse’s body, affecting movement and how the horse feels, can lead us to think that the whorls on the head mislead us.
The other thing that needs taken into account is the shape of the horse’s features. Head shape, ears, chin, all of it combines with the whorls to give us an in depth and very nuanced picture of what the horse will be like.
Figuring out the similarities between temperament and whorls takes looking at many different horses and finding the thing that connects them. With all of the extras to sort through that can be difficult!
I have some rather exciting news and something a bit unusual to announce.
I had the pleasure of interviewing with Carly Kade a while back for her wonderful podacst, Equestrian Author Spotlight. It’s such a fun podcast to listen, all sorts of great authors to hear about and a fun place to find new book recommendations. It was an honor to get to be among those authors as a guest.
My podcast aired on Wednesday July 27th. You can find it on her website, Spotify, or wherever you like to get your podcasts.
As an extra bit of fun for the interview I took a look at Carly’s two horses. Here is the analysis of them:
Tanner is a very pretty buckskin mare.
She has a slightly high whorl, it’s set centered between both eyes, side to side but just above eye level. That will show very slight extrovert traits. Extroverts are very invested in the external world, everything going on around them. They want to go, to be moving all the time. Intelligent, emotional, and sensitive they will be as brave as they can be and eager to please with a sensitive supportive rider or a nervous wreck with a harsh rider who doesn’t give the support they need. So she will be a little bit of all or some of those things. This is a list of things we can expect to see some of. Not necessarily every single one of the things.
There is a line of feathering coming up from the whorl. Feathering is where the hair grows out from a center line. Like a feather. Feathering shows a horse that will have left brain traits, friendly, curious, confident, calm. Left brain horses can be friendly and confident to the point that they will walk through people, be pushy.
The feathering goes off at a bit of an angle. When feathering is in an S shape it often shows a horse that will be accident prone. Not sure if this is enough of an S or not for that.
Her profile is straight, that shows a steady dependable horse. Her chin is softly rounded without any ridges or points. That shows a horse who will be relaxed and easy going. She doesn’t carry tension in her chin. Her eye is soft and kind.
Sissy is a nice little paint.
Her forehead whorl is pretty much centered. That is usually said to show a quiet willing horse, easy going and uncomplicated. That can be true. It often is true, but not always. A single center whorl actually shows us no extremes of temperament. In order to see what the horse is going to be like we need to look at the shape of the head.
Her profile is mostly straight, which shows a steady horse, with a hint of a dish for some sensitivity.
The most noticeable thing about her is her chin. We can only see a bit of it here but that’s enough to see the flat lower lip that comes to a point at the chin. These chins are very distinct. The usually come with a straight, slightly dished profile and nostrils that are pulled back a little like we can see hers are around the edges.
When she gets upset, whether something scares her or she is asked to do too much in training, that chin will get rock hard. The lower lip will get flat and stick out like a pouting child.
The chin type is almost always accompanied by very thin sensitive skin, bothered quite a bit by bugs. Also very wrinkly. They can pull the nostrils back and the eye lids down until the area around them is wrinkled clear up.
Horses can have whorls on the sides of their heads as well as the front. These whorls have plenty of information to share. Whether they are on one side or both, the meanings stay the same.
A whorl on the temple shows a horse who is intelligent to the point of it being a problem for some people. Crazy smart, they are capable of coming up with all sorts of ways to keep themselves entertained. They need something to keep their very busy minds occupied.
Whorls on the jaw show a horse who is a left brain extrovert. A left-brain extrovert is a brave and curious horse. They are thinkers who can think up all sorts of trouble with their very active minds. They are curious and clever, usually very friendly, and can be pushy.
Whorls on the cheek also show left brain but also add in a tendency to hold onto tension. These whorls affect the temporomandibular joint (tmj) the jaw joint in simpler terms. This joint can tighten the poll which has an effect over the entire body. Cheek whorls, through their effect on the tmj ,can also be a sign that the teeth will wear unevenly. When behavioral issues come up in a horse with cheek whorls it is very important to check the teeth for problems and the tmj for tension.
Sometimes horses will have different combinations of these whorls. The individual meanings stay the same, just combined. Except for when they have all three which changes the effects slightly. Horses with all three are rare but it seems to produce a quiet, dependable horse who thinks things through instead of getting upset, who is willing and happy to try whatever is asked of him.
Have you ever found yourself hiding from children? Wishing they would be still and leave you just a moments peace and quiet? Not that you don’t love them. Do you feel drained and exhausted after time spent at parties or with groups of people? Not that you don’t like them. Is time alone necessary to your survival and peace of mind?
Is so, you might be an introvert.
Because who doesn’t love Jeff Foxworthy.
Introverted horses have a lot in common with introverted people. Both are often misunderstood.
Being an introvert doesn’t mean a horse doesn’t like people. They can be very friendly and love attention. Being an introvert doesn’t mean a horse wont run around and play or have bursts of energy and want to run around.
An introvert needs time alone, not all the time, but some time to rest from the exhaustion that comes with people. Or maybe I should at least pretend I’m writing this about horses and say groups of horses. Although people must be just as taxing to their peace of mind.
An introvert holds their thoughts and opinions within. That doesn’t mean they don’t have them just that they don’t feel the need to let the world know about the the way an extrovert does. They need time to think things through and process the information they gather.
Although an introvert is capable of and happy to spend time running about, often they prefer to conserve their energy. More whoa than go is a common staple. When going is necessary we need to make sure not to ask for it just for the sake of going. Endless circles will drive an introvert crazy. Where they may help to calm an extrovert with soothing repetition.
Ask for a behavior once. If the horse gives you the right answer, let them stop. Give plenty of rest time to cement the correct answer given. Keep repetitions to a minimum.
With an introvert is there is a certain stoicism that goes beyond internalizing. It’s so much more than needing time to think or be alone. It’s an overwhelming need to avoid showing weakness or vulnerability. Introverts will hide pain and discomfort. Often seeming just fine before blowing up “out of no where”. In reality, the signs were there, subtle and nearly hidden. An introvert needs to be watched for the smallest signals something might be wrong. Things as small as a tightening of the eyes even when the body language says everything is fine.
As one introvert lover said, their horse is constantly fighting “an internal battle between wanting to be included and engaged but needing to have time to think.”
Hesitation to give love freely and instantly doesn’t mean an introvert wont be a loving horse. Give them time to get to know you. Time to think it through and develop trust. Once that has been given and you have earned their regard an introvert will be a devoted partner.
Are there certain whorls that are more common in certain breeds?
Perhaps. In one study just over 50 percent of Thoroughbreds were found to have high whorls. It’s a majority but leaves plenty of room in there for other whorls.
The thing that is more common in breeds is head shape.
We can tell just as much about a horse’s temperament by looking at head shape as we can by looking at whorls. So it isn’t surprising that the breed standard in head shape tells us a lot about what we can expect from the general temperament of horses in that breed.
Of course not all horses are going to have a head that perfectly fits the breed standard. The standard only gives a base line, all horses are individuals and there will be great variation in personalities and head shapes. There will also be a ‘normal’ expected type that we see most often in a breed.
Quarter horses typically have a straight profile, rectangular muzzle, the head is wide between the eyes with large jowls. The over all head shape is almost triangular as the wide forehead narrows down to a small muzzle. That shows a steady, dependable horse. Intelligent and able to work and learn easily because the large jowls allow them to take in plenty of air.
Morgans tend to be very rectangular in their head shape, the profile very straight. Morgan ears are shapely, alert, and prick towards the center. The combinations gives them extreme steadiness combined with lots of energy and sensitivity. It seems like an unlikely combination. Until you think about how they were bred back when horse needed to work all day long, and be cared for and handled by even the smallest family members. The combination of energy to go all day and the dependability to allow them to keep the family safe made for a treasured animal that was used to build farms, carried men to war, safely drove the family to town, and took care of the children.
Arabians have been bred in recent times to have anything from a slight to extreme dish in their profile. The dish shows sensitivity, how much depends on how much of a dish they have. The huge eyes show intelligence, and sometimes reactiveness or worry. The shapely pricked ears show sensitivity and energy.
Norwegian Fjords have extremely steady dependable head shapes, and often very interesting, unusual whorls to add interest to those steady heads. Saddlebreds have tough determined heads, with energetic, sensitive ears. Standardbreds have a reputation for not having pretty heads. What they do have is a head that shows a hard working horse, one who can stand up to hard work and is very business like. They have a job to do and will get to it without drama and theatrics. A very tough, dependable head, there is great beauty in that. There are as many different head types as there are breeds of horse.
All breeds that are bred for a temperament type ended up with a head shape that accompanied it. Other times it worked the other way around. A breed was carefully selected for a certain head shape. They then ended up with a temperament type, whether they meant to or not. Those head shapes, and therefore temperament ended up set as a breed standard. Whether or not those breeds have a certain whorl that is more likely to occur I don’t know. Yet. Head shape we do know for sure though.
They’ve just got to be extra. They can’t help themselves. It’s who they are.
Not that it’s a bad thing.
They have big personalities, big emotions, big sensibilities.
When a horse has one single whorl placed above eye level they will be an extrovert. Extroverts are very aware of all the things going on around them. They don’t miss a single thing. That can be great if you want a cutting horse who will get down and work a cow, never missing a move they make. If you were hoping to walk quietly down the trail on a horse who wont take a wrong step it might make life a bit more exciting than you had hoped for.
With all their emotions out there for everyone to see their feelings are easily hurt. Force and a heavy hand will leave them crumpled and crying on the ground.
If you recognize their need for attention and adoration they will sparkle and shine, doing their best to please and putting on a brave act to show you how much they can do.
Right brain or left brain extrovert does make a difference. Right brain will be your artist, emotional and sensitive, even more so. Left brain, a brainiac, curious and lacking in some basic social skills as they stick their nose in your business wanting to be involved, to help, if you’d just move over and let them they really could do it for you.
Either one is crazy smart, able to figure out what you want faster than you can. It takes a lot to stay ahead of them, keep them entertain and busy. All without crushing their delicate flower like feelings. When you can manage that they will love you desperately. Gazing at you with those huge puppy dog like eyes in adoration. A high whorl can never get enough love and gentle affection. To pet them too hard is akin to an attack, especially when the right brain is at the helm. To get it just right with them is to gain a devoted follower for life.
They have an amazing reputation in the horse whorld. Steady, dependable, unchanging. They are the unicorn of whorls.
Yes, this is mostly deserved. It’s entirely possible that they can be those things.That single whorl shows a lack of extremes. Extremes are good to avoid with anything in life. The middle of the road, a little of everything and not too much of anything.
Most of the time a single whorl comes with a straight profile, squared off muzzle, a very rectangular shaped head. All the things that come with a steady dependable horse.
Most of the time.
Those times when they don’t are the time people say whorls don’t work. They say they had a single whorl horse and he didn’t fit any of the expectations!
That is why we can’t just look at the whorl when we have a single whorl. It tells us there are no extremes to be seen in the whorl, not that there are no extremes at all. Sometimes the head shape will show us differences in temperament, sometimes it will be other whorls on the head. A center whorl is a good solid steady starting spot but it isn’t the entire journey. Here more than any other whorl the details are the important thing. Is the profile dished? Rounded? Are there quirk bumps? Or is the profile straight to keep that center whorl sensible.
When all the features are aligned a single center whorl is the perfect whorl to look for for people who want a quiet, dependable horse who is the same horse every day, without the drama and excitement of more complicated whorl patterns. Baby sitters and trusted rides single whorls are usually the trusted stand by that people reach for again and again.
They have a bad reputation. Watch out for those double whorls. Nothing but trouble. Said to have double personalities, wildly swinging mood changes. Jekyll and Hyde temperament. Avoid them when you can.
There are a select few of us who like our double whorls.
What is a double whorl?
For this purpose it is two whorls stacked on top of each other or next to each other. There are other whorl patterns with two whorls but they aren’t usually included in this. Although they are welcome to join the club!
Yes, two whorls does show a horse that has a little extra. You can even quite rightly say that they will have double personalities. Twice the whorls mean twice the horse. They have so much to give, with the right person. Intelligent and sensitive they need a rider who is confident and willing to listen to them. Who will offer support and not get made at small, or large, meltdowns. One who enjoys the idiosyncrasies and a more exciting ride than quiet uncomplicated horses will give.
When given these things a double whorl horse will give all they have to offer.
There are differences in the horses depending on whorl placement of course. A stacked double is going to be different than a side by side double.
Stacked double whorls show a horse who can be quiet and excitable, spooky but trustworthy. They draw from both the introvert and extrovert sides of their temperament. The change from introvert to extrovert and back can come as a shock, leading to the double personality claims. The wider the space between the whorls the greater the differences in the temperament. When the whorls are touching, or nearly so, the swings will be small. When they are far apart the differences greater.
High double side by side whorls show a horse who is a left brain extrovert, with some right brain extrovert mixed in. They are sensitive, extremely quick learners. Bold, calm, curious, and confident, they can concentrate intently on a job but will get bored with repetition. You have to give them a reason to be interested. They can be a super power in the right hands. Without steady confident handling they can completely run over a person.
No, these horses aren’t for everyone. People who aren’t fans can take the whorl as a warning and find horses who suit them better. People who like them get to be members of the double whorls club. A select and rarefied group. Are you a member of the double whorl club?
We’re taught from the beginning with horses that when they lay their ears back it means they are mad. It’s a threat of attack. We need to teach them to respect us if they have their ears back when they are with us.
That can be entirely misleading.
There are many reasons why a horse will carry their ears back. It can be in intense concentration. When a horse is focusing and working hard they will often have their ears flat against their head.
When a horse is in pain they will lay their ears back. This is one of the first signs of pain shown on the pain grimace scale, used to judge a horses discomfort.
An often overlooked reason why horses carry their ears back is temperament. For many horses it is just they way they are. Introverts naturally carry their ears like this. It is a good way to judge temperament when looking at the head. Ears being held back in one picture can just be a moment in time. If they are held slightly back in every picture or every time you see the horse you can bet they will have an introverted temperament.
What else do we expect to see in an introvert? Aside from a low whorl or diagonal doubles, introverts can have a single center whorl. Head shape can be anything, convex, straight, or dished.
An introverted horse is a horse who is content within themselves. They are thinking, processing the information around them. Sometimes people make the mistake of underestimating their intelligence because they don’t respond immediately, which is a major mistake. Introverts can be extremely intelligent, they just don’t run around telling everyone about it like an extrovert does. They have a quiet, droll sense of humor.