Reading Whorls


Horse with a clockwise whorlWhether a horse’s whorl (the hair that swirls on his forehead) swirls clockwise or counterclockwise can tell you whether he is right- or left-hoofed, according to a November 24 article published in Nature News.

According to the article, veterinarians Jack Murphy and Sean Arkins of the University of Limerick, Ireland, recently authored a research paper titled “Facial hair whorls (trichoglyphs) and the incidence of motor laterality in the horse.” In the paper they “classified a total of 219 racehorses, show-jumpers and eventers as left- or right- hoofed based on the judgment of expert riders as well as on tests such as which hoof they led with when beginning to walk, and which side they chose to go round an obstacle. Of 104 left-hoofed horses, the researchers found that 78 or 75 percent had anticlockwise hair whorls. And out of 95 that favored their right side, 64 or 67 percent had clockwise whorls.”

The article makes the point that which direction a horse favors could help trainers produce stock that runs straighter and wins more races. “That is a strong enough link to be a useful tip to trainers,” Murphy told Nature News. “A horse’s handedness or ‘motor laterality’ translates into a tendency to drift in one direction, which can make a big difference to a horse’s competitive chances. The earlier you can spot biases, the easier it is to correct them, by, for example, getting horses to work on their weaker side using longeing.”


  1. Well, my first horse was left sided and it took me awhile to figure out why I had to do everything backwards from what the books said. I never knew about the whorls though. I think my current horse is right sided but I’ll check to see if this method works. It’s pretty easy to tell though so I don’t know why this method would be needed.

  2. I have six horses-three quarters and three paints. The whorls comments held up with my horses. That is,if the wholes are between the eyes, the calmer the horse–the higher the wholes the more high strung. Also, there are whorls on each side of the horses neck–the closer to the ears, the quieter the horse and the one closest to the ear is the softest side


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