Phrenology, Horse Whorls

  1. the detailed study of the shape and size of the cranium as a supposed indication of character and mental abilities.

This was once considered to be a valid science well studied and deeply believed. Now we dismiss it and mock former believers.

Yes, people in the past have been wrong. That is what science is. Trying to figure out what is going on in the world around us. Science often lands on the wrong answer a few times before getting it right. Just because people have been wrong in the past doesn’t mean they weren’t on track with the right basic idea. For example, people long ago thought that diseases were caused by the bad odors around them. They were close. It wasn’t the odors, and covering the odors with good smells didn’t cure disease.

The causes of the odors, rot, decay, filth, and sickness, did cause some of the disease and infection they were trying to cure by masking the odors. Once science was reached a point where germs were discovered we mocked those who thought a bad smell could cause disease. They were doing the best they could with what they had. The same with phrenology.

Another attempt that was on the right track.

That the outside of the body can give us clues as to what is going on inside still makes perfect sense. As with germs though we need to find the real cause and correlations. Not make assumptions based on what we think should be. The ‘inventor’ of phrenology arbitrarily decided what part of the head should correlate with which part of the brain. He did do some comparisons. He also placed traits on these spots such as a tendency to commit murder or theft. Such very exact meanings for a small bump in the head.

What does this have to do with the study of whorls?

To many people who dismiss whorl analysis as phony science, quite a bit. In reality there are similarities. The same as thinking bad smells cause disease is related to the discovery of germs. All studies have to start somewhere. We will make many wrong attempts at explanations before we find the correct answer. That doesn’t mean the early attempt were foolish. It means they had less to go on. Because of early attempts to explain natures phenomenons, we have shoulders to stand on. Each generation learns a little more and gives the next generation a head start in their studies.

Science is not a single concrete answer, it is an ongoing study.

Sight Unseen, Horse Whorls

We’ve all seen the pleas, about to ship, this horse needs saved now.

I know there are pitfalls and a definite dark side to the slaughter horse industry. Setting that aside for the moment, what if you decide that you can’t let the horse go? How do you decide to take the chance and pull that horse? There are many reasons horses end up in kill pens. Lameness and behavioral issues are two big ones. There are also many good horses who end up there through shear bad luck. What are the odds that a pitiful looking horse you only get to see a few bad grainy pictures of could actually work out for you?

This is one place where whorls are put to perfect use. They aren’t always visible in those bad pictures. When they are, it is likely the only clue you will get as to what that horse will actually be like. I’ve seen a few of those ads where the whorls made me sad. The whorls on the horse made it unlikely that the horse could be rehabbed to a happy life. Maybe it would be better to put the time and money to use on a horse with more likelihood of a positive outcome.

Other times we can see a horse who is overlooked because of plain coloring or homely looks. The whorls and head show a willing, steady horse who would likely make a dependable mount for someone lucky enough to search out things more important than looks.

Looking at the whorls before purchasing any horse can help avoid heartbreak. A dressage or reining  prospect with uneven body whorls will have a hard time reaching the upper levels. A hopeful child’s mount with a diagonal double whorl could make life miserable for both of them. When we are buying horses on the regular horse market though, we will be given much more information, a history, video, the life story. Kill pen horses come with none of that. They are a gamble. We need to do all we can to stack the cards in our favor.

This is my kill pen horse. Young and ugly at the time. He did come with the warning that he ran people over. With that lovely bit of information, these pictures, and, because he was lucky enough to have been sent to the sale with his papers, knowledge of his good bloodlines, I took the chance. Would knowing what the whorls were on him have changed anything? Not in this case. I was lucky to get a high double whorl. He lives up to everything we would expect from those. With training and care he learned not to run people over and is now practically perfect.

Why Teaching Tricks Helps Overcome Fear In Horses

We know that by teaching tricks we are teaching our horses to be fearless. It just works. It also makes sense that teaching a horse that it’s fun to play with tarps and all the various weird toys we come up with desensitizes them to many of the things horses are usually scared of.
I also like to say that it builds their confidence in themselves and their trust in us. Which it does.
The science of it goes so much deeper than that though. And it all comes down to choice.
When we give our horses choice in what we do together it inhibits the amygdala, the fear circuit in the brain, to put it very simply. The amygdalae help define and regulate emotions. This makes the horses less afraid. Letting our horses have some control over what they do on a regular basis conditions the brain to expect to have control even when the animals don’t actually have a choice. Then when they encounter a situation where they don’t have control their brain reacts in that same way they are used to reacting, with choice, and the amygdala is still suppressed.
The brain has been reformed to not feel as much fear!
Horses brains develop in completely different ways when they are given choice. Choice causes horses, any animal, to respond to fear and stress in a proactive manner. To take control and try to shape what is happening to them. When a horse isn’t given choice they respond to fear and stress in a reactive manner. The spook, they run, they strike out.
So yes, we are teaching our horses not to fear all of these specific things that we are working with. It goes so much deeper than that though. The depth of the change that giving choice makes on animals, and people, is just amazing. We know and can easily see the difference it makes. That it can completely rebuild the brain structure dumbfounds me.
Which it shouldn’t. We already know that positive reinforcement rebuilds the way the brain functions. That looking for the good in things causes us to find the good in life and can even help to ease depression in some cases. We already know that teaching animals to look for more and different solutions allows them to solve problems on their own far beyond what animals without that experience are able to do (…). So it should be a simple thing to say oh, of course this is how it works. Still the intricacies of it all never cease to intrigue and enthrall me.


Understanding Horse Whorls

Understanding Horse Whorls is now available in paperback!

Since its release as an ebook in April of 2021 Understanding Horse Whorls has sold around the whorl. Here in the US, next door in Canada, from England to Australia, and even Norway, Germany, Paraguay, South Africa, Bulgaria, Germany, and the Netherlands.

People kept asking when it would be available in paper form? An ebook is great but a book you can hold in your hands has a special appeal. After lots of work and with a few new pieces of information the transformation is complete and ready to be offered as a real book.

Full of pictures and in depth explanations Understanding Horse Whorls covers the whorls on the head, as well as throughout the entire body, the meanings of head shape, and even possible effects of color are covered. From old stories to new science every aspect of horse whorls are explored.

Then in the end the individual pieces are brought together as we look at real horses and show how a horse whorl analysis is done.

You can find a walk through of the book here

The book on Amazon here

Treat Box

I got the biggest surprise in the mail yesterday!

There was a box, with my name on it. I hadn’t ordered anything. We happily tore into it anyway. With a small child’s help we ripped the box open to find….

Beautifully wrapped horse stuff.

Behind the festive paper we hand crafted horse cookies, Molasses cookies with candy corn and pumpkins on top, which my child promptly ate 🤦🏼‍♀️ and pumpkin spice flavored cookies, which haven’t been eaten by children, yet. A beautiful spiderweb tail bag. The most darling little spooking horse sticker, that I had to fight the other child for. In my refusal to let it be wasted by randomly sticking it somewhere It may have gotten lost. I wanted to put it somewhere that I’d be able to enjoy it long term, so now I can’t find it anywhere 🙁  And my favorite of all, a nylon headstall! Not just a headstall, a headstall in the perfect shades of purples, pinks and oranges printed with pumpkins! And coffees, I’m betting pumpkin spice flavored coffees.

That one isn’t in the picture because I had to run out immediately and put it on a horse! It was so perfect we decided to do some Halloween type things while he was wearing it. We put a mask on and played fetch with the severed hand.

A big thanks to my mom for gifting me with the box and to Whinney Wear for packing such a great assortment of fall flavored horse fun!

Understanding Horse Whorls, Horse Whorls

It seems like forever that I’ve been saying this but

The print version of Understanding Horse Whorls is almost done!

I have here in my hands what will hopefully be the last proof copy. We are going over it carefully to make sure that all my mistakes have been found and fixed. Spelling and punctuation have never been my strong point. Not even close 🤣 It takes a village to find all my issues.

Then, within a week or so, the book will be available in paper form! I will of course let everyone know when and where to find it.

Just Different

I had to call the repair shop about my trusty green mount the other day. Also known as the fourwheeler I usually drive. It is a good and faithful mount. The noises it had started making were not good. I wanted to get it looked at.

It became apparent that if it was going to be done I was going to have to be the one to do it. Girding my loins, I made the call.

They had all sorts of horrible questions they thought I should know the answer to, like, what kind is it? How am I supposed to know that! I know how to drive it. I know how to make it work cattle nicely. Knowing the breed is not my area. It is a Honda for future reference.

I felt like an idiot.

Yesterday I got to go riding with my best friend. Between children and the work we usually need to be doing we never get to ride. It was great.

I rode her horse, a big, steady, wonderful boy. He is usually ridden by her husband for ranch work, or her child because he is so trustworthy, back to that part where she seldom gets to ride because of children and what not. As a ranch horse he is great. He can do all sorts of things and is far better trained than my horses. In his area of expertise.

I put a leg on him to ask him to scoot over. He had no idea what I was talking about.

I could look at his lack of knowledge in that one area and assume he isn’t well trained. Like the mechanic at the repair place thought about me when I didn’t know the breed of fourwheeler. It is easy for us to form ideas about people and animals based on their knowledge of an area we know about. To think they are stupid or ignorant, judging them in one thing.

We all have our separate areas that we know about and are good at. We all have areas we know nothing about or are terrible at. This is a good thing. It wouldn’t do the world any good if all people were skilled in one area.

Appreciating everyone and everything’s unique skills and knowledge. Realize that they know way more than us about something. It will give us a whole new view of the world.


Halloween Wings

Second try on the wings.
I could have put something down the middle of the pool noodles. Still might. In the mean time though I had something else I wanted to try.
Foam paper is an amazing costume building tool. It can be cut and formed into any shape then sprayed with rubber stuff or painted with a craft glue then painted. The coating is very important or the paint will eat the foam.
I cut ‘feathers’ out of the foam paper. As a solid strip the foam paper does a pretty good job adding support to the pool noodle. It also holds the angle in the middle of the wing.
The design isn’t perfect yet. It’s also no where near done. I still need to coat the ‘feather’ part and figure out a better way to attach them to the surcingle. And maybe make the second wing while I’m at it ;)So far this is working better than the first design though.

Cattle, Horse Whorls

I’ve been looking at whorls on horses for decades. I’ve run cattle for not quite that long.

For some reason it never occurred to me to look at whorls on the cattle until recently. Even though so much of the good information we have about whorls came from studies on cattle. I had talked about them, looked at them, just not in an in depth sort of way.

Now I am actively trying to improve my cattle whorl knowledge. There is some really good information out there. I’m reading everything I can find and watching videos. Then taking all of that out to the pasture and looking closely at cattle.

The same ways I learned about horse whorls for the most part. Horses are different of course. We can ride them and see how they move and think. Most cattle aren’t ridden and the things we look at have more to do with milk quality, fertility, and health.

After watching some video by Steve Campbel I went out to check tanks and walked through the herd to see if I could find the markers he had talked about in real life.

This heifer stood out to me.

First of all she has a high ‘pancreatic’? line. I think that’s what it was called. It is a sign of pregnancy, health, and so on. If I remember right. Interestingly it was supposed to show up late in pregnancy. She can’t be very far along in pregnancy. The bulls were turned out in the middle of June. So what is it showing here?

Her build is even to slightly down hill. A cow should be lower in front than behind. It shows high fertility. Her hindquarters slope nicely down from the hip bones to the pelvic pins. The tail doc looks low and rounded. More ease of calving.

Her forehead whorl is a single, mostly centered. That shows a lick of extremes in temperament that we can see from the whorl. Some people say a nice easy going temperament. In horses the head can show lots of extremes that the whorl doesn’t. In cattle?

Her poll looks to be flat, not a sign of good fertility. I think the hair could be flattened down making it look that way and there might actually be a bump there. Apparently we want a small pointy bump. More fertility I think?

Her nose is broad. This one I remember because it was so interesting. The nose is about the same width of the pelvic pins in back. A wide nose shows a wide pelvis for ease of calving.

The front legs are wide at the knee then narrow sharply to the cannon bone, then slowly widen out to the hooves. I think. Most of the cows I looked at seemed to be shaped like this. Either I need to refine my ability to recognize this considerably, which I definitely  do, or it could be a sign that the cattle are nicely bred. This is supposed to be a sign of tender meat. A good thing in beef cattle.

Her back is flat between the hip bones. This was good. Fertility? Ease of calving? Or maybe it was a sign she’d be a good doer? These things are so hard to remember. Learning any new skill takes lots of time and effort! we can’t read or watch something once and think we’ll have it down!

She is flat and broad all the way down the back. Her back whorl is just in front of her withers. Another good thing. Rich milk I believe?

I didn’t get a very good picture of her from behind. We can’t see the wrinkles in the skin over the udders. A sign of good rich milk and tenderness. There are whorls on either side of the hindquarters, more rich milk.

I’m going to try to keep a close eye on this heifer and see what sort of calf she raises, see how she does calving, see if she somehow is bred earlier than the other cows.

Does anyone here like to look at cow whorls? I would love a critique of my critique. It would also be great to hear what other people look for in cows.