Split Mane

Often when we ask about what we can learn from some piece of a horse’s conformation the answers we get are completely opposite.
Sometimes this is because the lore is just plain contradictory.
But most of the time it is because the descriptions of exactly what we are looking at aren’t clear or the names we associate with each clue are vague. That can lead to confusion as we think we are asking one thing and people give answers that relate to another.
No where is this more common than with a ‘split mane’.
There are two very separate types of split manes and each tells opposite things about the horse. But both get referred to by that one very simple name.
One type of split mane is supposed to show a horse who is very even from side to side. Or at least an excess of hair that can’t all fit on one side. This type is when the mane splits lengthwise down the center of the crest to fall on each side of the neck all the way down.
The other is when the mane lays all on one side of the neck part way down then switches and all lays on the other side of the neck. This type of split shows soreness, mental stress, some sort of bodily issue.
It’s easy to see why we would get opposite answers when asking what it means when a horse has a ‘split mane’.
The difference in answers doesn’t mean the mane doesn’t really tell us anything or that it isn’t true that we can learn things from the mane. It just means we need more clarity in exactly what it is we’re looking at.
A little extra about manes.
-The side the mane lays to is usually the horses softer, or hollow, side.
-The mane will sometimes switch sides of the neck at a whorl or conformational flaw.
-When the mane switches sides near the withers, you can measure the length of the mane on the other side of the neck and measure that distance down the back from where the mane ends to find the sore spot in the back.
-Fear and mental stress seem to be able to cause the mane to split too.

Eruption Bumps

Horses between the age of two and a half and four and a half are in the process of growing in their adult teeth. They have 24 baby teeth to replace in all.
We can tell about this process by looking at, or feeling, the bottom of the jaw. As the adult teeth come in the pressure formed by the adult teeth pushing against the baby teeth causes ‘eruption bumps’ to form along the jaw. The same thing is happening on the upper jaw. Mostly hidden in the nasal cavity those bumps aren’t as noticeable.
These eruption bumps can be useful in checking the health of our horses and the process of the new teeth. Hard to the touch, these bumps shouldn’t bother the horse at all.
Knowing the bumps are there and that teething is going on can help us pin point causes of head shaking or discomfort in a bit. Even without any complications the process of growing in new teeth can make a horses mouth uncomfortable.
If the bumps become inflamed or painful to the touch we know to look for problems. Sometimes caps, baby teeth, will be retained and extremely difficult for the adult teeth to push out. A vet may decide the caps need help coming out to relieve the pressure. Although retained caps and other issues along those lines can lead to pain and the resulting behavioral issues, caps should never be pulled without a veterinarians guidance. The erupting molar can be damaged by over enthusiastic extraction.
Jaw bumps are perfectly natural, most of the time. They give us a good way to tell what is going on inside the horses mouth. They also help us to know when to step in and get help for our horses if things aren’t going well.


Lines of Blaschko

Have you ever heard of them? I hadn’t, but we’ve all seen them. Whether we knew what they were or not.

These lines will appear as marks in the coloring, other times as lines in the hair growth, stripes across the rib cage or neck. In most animals they are not visible, but occasionally they will show up when color, or hair growth, organizes along the lines. They will often be seen on horses with extreme rabcino markings or varnishing in Appaloosas. “Brindle” horses are often just horses with a concentration of roan, sooty, or grey along the the lines

These lines, which occur on humans as well as horses, represent the developmental growth pattern of the skin. Blaschko lines are thought to represent pathways of epidermal cell migration during the development of the fetus.

The lines themselves are invisible, but in humans many inherited and acquired diseases of skin and disorders of hyperpigmentation show along these patterns giving a visual appearance to these lines. In horses, with more colorful coat colors available, they can change the way the coat color presents. Unfortunately the color itself will not pass on genetically.

In horses the lines of blaschko can come and go throughout the horse’s life time, when they appear as lines in the hair. One theory is that lymphatic drainage can cause the lines to appear. Although the lines do not correspond to any known nervous, vascular or lymphatic structures or fascia.

They will show up after a message or an event in the horses life that was apparently stressful or in some way extreme for the horse. That would seem to be a sign that they can be related to something going on within the horse.


Foal Hair Waves

By looking at whorls we can have a clue about temperament from the time of birth.

There are limitations. One of those is the distortion of the whorl caused by the foal hair coat.

Foal coats do all sorts of interesting things. From colors no where near what the adult color will actually be, to primitive markings. Foal coats will also have curls that wont be present as the horse ages.

Very often the forehead will be wildly curly with concentric circles extending from center. These make the whorls look far more complicated than what they are.

As beautiful and convoluted as the circles are they are still only a byproduct of the baby hair coat and will disappear when the coat sheds and a more adult hair coat grows in.

When looking at foals, don’t let all the pretty extras confuse you. Look closely for the actual whorl. Or wait a year or two for a more easily exact analysis.


The Baby Bump

Horses are born with the whorls that they will have for life. That can give us a good clue about temperament from birth.
Head shape can get a little more complicated.
Foals are born with a bump over the forehead. This is the horse equivalent of the soft spot in a human babies skull. As the foal grows and matures the baby bump will go away allowing us to more clearly see what the head shape will truly be. If we pay too much attention to the bump we will get misleading ideas about what temperament will be like.
It’s important not to confuse this baby bump with a ‘jibah’, or bump in the forehead that adult horses have showing an emotional reactive horse. The dish to the profile caused by the baby bump is also not permanent or a true indication of character.
It is best to wait to look at head shape in a foal until they have matured to the point that the baby bump has grown out and the head is showing its true shape.

The Shredded Collar

According to superstition large wheat whorls, sometimes called a shredded collar, down the base of the neck are bad luck. Especially when combined with double whorls. The ultimate bad luck whorls.
There is seldom any more description of the whorls than that. A whorl like a wheat sheaf down the base of the neck. Although I think I’ve heard it mentioned that it’s worse when the whorl goes the whole length of the neck.
There are lots of different types of common neck whorls. So how do we know which of these are the dreaded shredded collar? And is it really bad luck?
When horses have big open whorls that go the whole length of the neck or part way it will result in a hose who carries their head in their air and their neck ‘upside down’. This results in a horse who is heavy on the forehand, if not ridden properly and carefully to help them balance better.
It is easy to see how this could result in tripping or bucking because of poor carriage and the accompanying discomfort. Hence the ‘bad luck’.
When you combine poor training, poor body carriage, and the extra sensitivity of a double whorl then it becomes even easier to see how a horse could be considered bad luck.
Does that mean they are actually bad luck?
Absolutely not.
We have better training methods available to a greater range of people now. There are trainers out there to help. Body workers to alleviate pain. Saddle fitters to help the horse be comfortable. All of these things make it easier for a horse who is set up for difficulty in the human horse world to more easily find a way to work with us.
When the whorls are small or the hair grows to the center instead of outwards the meanings are completely different. Opposite even.

Horse Pain Face

Horse’s faces are far more expressive than we often give them credit for.
Capable of 17 separate facial expressions they fall a little short of the 27 expressions humans can manage. 17 is still a good amount and perfectly adequate to show us how they feel.
A happy relaxed horse will have a soft muzzle, without wrinkles or tension. Their eyes will be the same. When a horse is worried or in pain their muzzle will tighten creating layers in the chin and wrinkles around the nostrils and mouth. The eyes will pull to a triangle, with wrinkles over the brow.
This horse is a perfect example of a peaceful relaxed head compared to a later picture where he is clearly showing pain or unhappiness.
He was having behavioral issues. There wasn’t any sign of pain, only a faint memory of a wreck he had gotten himself into in the pasture a month before. Without any limp or obvious injuries the wreck was easily forgotten.
His owner, watching carefully to try to find an answer to recently developed behavior issues, noticed a change in posture and expression as soon as she placed a saddle on his back. He froze, head high, and eyes big. No outright refusal or acting out, no biting or back dropping. Just that freeze. She pulled the saddle and he relaxed again.
That got her thinking about possible causes and she went back through old pictures and found one from before his pasture wreck. Comparing the two was like looking at two different horses. Even without the saddle he was now showing all the signs of discomfort in his expression.
Realizing there is something going on and that he isn’t just being ‘naughty’ as behavior issues are so often thought to be, she started taking steps to fix his pain issues and get him back to the nice horse he once was.
So often these things creep up on us. A horse’s behavior will change so gradually we don’t notice an immediate start of the issue, we just wake up one day, months later, and have a different horse in front of us than what we remember from so long ago.
By taking note of facial expressions we can find root causes and notice when there is an issues. Horses speak loudly to us, if we take the time to notice.

Thick vs Thin

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!

A Science And An Art

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!

Equestrian Author Podcast

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.

You can find more info on Carly, her podcast, AND her books here: https://www.carlykadecreative.com/

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.
Check out my interview here: