Horse hair whorls

Most people will be familiar with a cowlick the part in someone’s hair that no matter what you do to it, it won’t do what it’s told and will often go against the natural flow of your hair. Horses have very similar things to this that are called whorls or swirls.

Petcover will take you through the meaning of these whorls and the myths behind them…

Different types of whorls

Whorls can be found on every horse, mainly along the face, flank, neck, or stomach. Many horses will have a whorl between their eyes, and no matter the size of the animal, every whorl is different and unique to that particular horse. This is often why they are used as identification for a horse and can be written on paperwork as they do not change as the horse grows and gets older. It can be said that they are a form of an equine fingerprint. Some types of whorls include:

  • Simple: where the hairs converge from different directions into a single focal point
  • Tufted: where the hair seems to converge and piles up into a tuft
  • Linear: where hair is growing in opposite directions meet along a line
  • Crested: similar to linear, but the hair merges to form a crest
  • Feathered: where the hair meets along a line but falls at an angle to form a feathered pattern


The myths behind whorls date back to beliefs held by the Bedouins and their beloved Arab horses. They believed that the whorl on their horse related to the horse’s personality and the value of their horse. Some of these myths are based on areas that the whorls are located, the number of whorls, and the size of these whorls. These myths include:

  • Low facial whorls are a sign of intelligence
  • A whorl between the eyes indicates obedience and a good disposition
  • Left-sided facial whorls mean complications
  • Right-sided whorls mean uncooperative and untrustworthy
  • If your horse has a long facial whorl, known as a feather whorl, this means that they are very friendly and love people

With these whorls relating to behavioural characteristics, they also believed in bad whorls that foretold more than behavioural traits. These included:

  • A whorl on the horse of the neck is said to be the prophets thumbprint – whoever’s thumb fit the horse’s whorl was the true owner
  • A whorl above the eye meant the master would die from a head injury
  • A whorl that looked similar to a coffin between the withers meant the rider would die in the saddle
  • A cheek whorl means debt and ruin
  • A chest whorl indicates prosperity
  • A whorl on the girth means good fortune
  • A whorl on the side of the tail meant misery and famine

Are the beliefs about whorls true?

Although many of these myths are obviously not true, the ones about behavioural characteristics of the horse may have some merit. A Polish study in 2006 found that horses with high whorls on their head were more difficult to manage than those with medium or lower whorls.

Another study was done by the Ireland’s University of Limerick also concluded that horses whorl had some link to their preferred side (left-handed or right-handed). It was found that horses who demonstrated more right sidedness tended to have whorls going clockwise, while the left-leaning horses had counterclockwise whorls.

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