Horse Facial Swirls: Do They Mean Something?

Posted by Allie Layos
Horse Nation

Your horse's facial swirls may be able to tell you about his personality. 

A swirl, or whorl, is a distinctive pattern in the lay of hair on the horse, often appearing as spokes rotating around a center. Many people believe swirls are more than just random cowlicks, and may actually be indicative of a horse's personality.

Author and animal expert Linda Tellington-Jones helped popularize this theory when she wrote about the apparent link between horse facial swirls and personality in her 1995 book "Getting in TTouch - Understand and Influence Your Horse's Personality." After comparing the swirls and personality of 1,500 horses, she noticed the following correlations.

A single swirl between or above the eyes.

Of Horse
Of Horse

This usually indicates a horse with an uncomplicated nature. If the swirl is set to the left as you face the horse, the horse will be a bit more complicated, but still trustworthy.

If it's set to the right, the horse will probably be less cooperative. However, single swirls between or above the eyes are less indicative of the horse's character than the more complex patterns.

A single swirl several inches below the eyes.

Top Horse
Top Horse

These intelligent and imaginative horses like to amuse themselves. They are the Houdinis of the barn, the clowns, the entertainers, and they can be quite a nuisance as they open stall doors, turn on water faucets, and escape the cross ties.

According to Tellington-Jones, they are usually "interesting characters to deal with."

A single, long swirl that may be between the eyes or extend below.

Horse Nation
Horse Nation

This swirl pattern indicates a horse that is friendly and enjoys relating to people. If a horse with this swirl pattern is not friendly, it's most likely because they are in pain or have a history of abuse.

Two swirls adjoining.

Horsemanship Journal
Horsemanship Journal

Whether these swirls are above, between, or below the eyes, stacked one above the other, or are positioned side-by-side or at an angle to each other, this swirl combination marks a horse that is more emotional and more overreactive than average.

These horses can become upset suddenly and without reason, and the best way to handle them when they blow up is to back off and allow them to settle on their own. Rather than helping, punishment only aggravates these horses and brings more resistance. However, this doesn't mean that a horse with two adjoining swirls can't be a great mount. Some of the best show horses have this configuration. They just need the right rider -- usually one with experience.

Three swirls close together on the forehead (not up under the forelock).

Triple swirls are rare, and their meaning is varied. In geldings and mares, this pattern indicates a complex horse but not an unpredictable one. In stallions, however, it almost always marks a horse that exhibits unreliable and even dangerous behavior.

Our horses can't speak, but they can tell us so much -- even just through markings like facial swirls!

Horse Facial Swirls: Do They Mean Something?