A whorl, (also called a swirl, crown, or cowlick), is where the hair grows in the opposite direction from the hair surrounding it. Most horses have one somewhere on their face, although the position and shape varies. The whorl can be high, between the eyes, or low on the horse’s face and be big, small, round, long, messy...some horses can even have two or more.
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 growing in opposite directions meet along a line.
• Crested...same as for 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.
• Sinuous, where two opposing lines of hair growth meet along an irregular curving line.
About 78% of horses have one of the above facial whorls, while 16% have double whorls and only 6% having three or more.
You have a hair whorl on top your head (check it out) and about 2-5% of people have TWO whorls and it’s thought the direction of your hair whorl...clockwise or counter-clockwise...indicates if you are left or right-handed.
Whorls can be found on other areas of the horse's body such as the neck, chest, belly and in front of the stifles. Part of the breed standard for Exmoor ponies lists facial whorls as being desirable as they help divert water away from the eyes.
Bedouin horseman placed great significance on a horse's hair whorls and used them to determine the value of a horse. One Arabian horse was said to have had 40 whorls on its body! (The average is six). They also believed whorls between the ears means the horse was swift while any on the side of the neck were called the 'finger of the Prophet'.
Another marking is the 'Prophet's Thumbmark' which is a small indentation in the horse's neck, although it can also appear on other areas of the body. The legend goes that the Prophet Mohammed tested his horses by depriving them of water for several days. He then released them near a waterhole but before they reached it, he sounded his trumpet to summon them. Only five mares responded and returned to him, and these were kept for breeding. He pressed his thumb into their necks, leaving an indentation which they passed on to their offspring. It's said any horses bearing the mark are blessed, and the person whose thumb exactly fits the hole is the horse's true owner.
Many Arabian horses have the mark, as do Thoroughbreds, which descended from Arabian bloodlines.
Other Bedouin beliefs included:
• A whorl on the chest meant prosperity.
• A whorl on the girth was a sign of good fortune and an increase in flocks.
• Whorls on the flank were known as 'spur whorls' and if curved up, safety in battle or if inclined downwards, prosperity. The Byerley Turk, an Arabian who is one of the founding sires for the Thoroughbred breed, was said to have been born with the Whorl of the Spurs and was never injured in the many battles he was ridden in.
• The whorl of the Sultan was found on the windpipe and meant love and prosperity.
They also believed in evil whorls:
• A whorl above the eye meant the master will die from a head injury.
• The whorl of the coffin was one positioned close to the withers, sloping downwards towards the shoulder and meant the rider will die in the saddle.
• A whorl on the horse's cheek meant debt and ruin.
• A whorl on one side of the tail means misery and famine.
In the Indian Marwari breed, few will consider buying a horse with a whorl positioned below the horse’s eyes as it’s considered a bad omen, however a long whorl down the neck is known as a 'Devman' and believed to be lucky.
Whorls are individual to every horse (like our fingerprints) and many breed registries use them as identification as they can never be brushed or clipped out. Trainer Linda Tellington-Jones believes whorls can indicate a horse's temperament;
• A whorl positioned above the eyes is the most common and indicates a horse with an uncomplicated nature.
• Horses with whorls below the eyes usually have above average intelligence and like to make a nuisance of themselves by opening gates etc.
• Whorls positioned on the left of the face indicate a complicated but trustworthy horse, while horses with whorls on the right can be uncooperative.
• Horses with one long whorl line (also called a 'feather mark' and is the equivalent of a human hair part) are people-friendly and Linda says that a horse with this type or whorl who isn't friendly should be investigated as it’s likely they are in pain or being abused.
• Horses with two adjoining whorls can be emotional and difficult to handle and do not make good mounts for inexperienced riders.
• Three whorls on the forehead is extremely rare and can indicate an unpredictable horse or, if a stallion, dangerous to handle.