Cattle Whorls

For the whorl page

I’ve been walking through the heifers every morning. They need trained just like horses do. Young cattle need to get used to people to make them easier to handle as an adult. Cows need to know not to be afraid so we can handle them easier and safer as we move them through pastures,  work them, and help them as they calve.

Walking through the herd also gives me a chance to study whorls and how the heifers with those whorls react to my presence.

In the lead, always right behind me, brave curious, and bold, is 717. She has a center to low whorl with a line of feathering coming up from the whorl. That should mark her as left brain, confident, curious, unconcerned about new things. That fits her behavior, checking me out as the other calves snort and shy away.

524 has been bucking and bolting across the pen the whole time. She doesn’t have a whorl. That seems to make  right brain animal, energetic, sensitive, alert. She’s curious but the first to bolt of I move, or stop. She reacts strongly to any stimuli.

In the back is 713. Her mom and grandma are my favorite cows. Calm, quiet, and easy going, they don’t get upset and are easy to handle. No surprise to find a simple center whorl on her. Average, no extremes, the cattle should be the easiest to work with. If there are no extreme’s in head shape, physical issues, or other outlying causes for difficult behavior of course.

Each whorl has its own benefits and drawbacks. A cow who isn’t afraid of anything, will be more likely to take you (get on the fight, or attack for non cattle speaking people 😉 ) where a cow who is more sensitive might run instead of fight. A cow with a high whorl is less likely to lose calves to predators. There are no good or bad whorls here just like there aren’t with horses. each animal needs to be worked with for who they are. It is fun to compare who they are to the whorl they carry though.

When You’ve Tried ‘Everything’

He was stunning as he ran into the ring at the sale barn. A long lanky mustang. Legs for miles and as thick as tree trunks. A flashy sorrel and flaxen with bright white feathering. The freeze brand on his neck marked him as a mustang.

I bought him without thought or hesitation. Even though he was run through loose at a small horse sale of mostly un-ridable horses and some horse trader junk thrown in.

Once home I was determined to take every precaution getting him going. We spent lots of time in the round pen. Got him used to the saddle and every scary thing from the ground. I made sure he gave to pressure and to the bit. I took my time getting him going. Did every thing right.

I just could not get past that one thing.

It was easy to see why he had ended up run through loose at the sale barn. Every time anyone reached up towards their hat he would take off bucking. Man that horse could buck. I thought often of finding a rodeo company to try to sell him to. He’d look beautiful as a saddle bronc. Huge long leaps with his hind legs straight up in the air.

I could not fix him. I tried everything.

How often do we hear that? I’ve tried EVERYTHING this horse can’t be fixed.

In reality we’ve never tried everything. We’ve tried all the things that we currently know how to try.

I wish that I could go back ad have another try at that beautiful mustang knowing what I do now. It is so painfully obvious to me all the things I had no idea about. The end of the training road, as far as I could see at the time, was barely even the entrance to the on-ramp. On the broad highway my horses and I are traveling now the many options I could have used to help him are so may and varied. To think that I ever though I had ‘tried everything’ is sad.

Now when I hear someone say they’ve tried everything,  I think back to the mustang I failed. I will always feel regret for him. That wasn’t the end though. Looking forward I see the horses I have been able to help because I didn’t stop my learning journey there. The next horse lead me to more and the next one after that. By continuing to learn and push past having tried everything the horizons that opened up are endless. I know now that there is no ‘everything’. There is always more training out there to learn about.



Heildorf walked up to me the other day. Even though it is still winter with snow on the ground I nearly jumped out of my boots. Was it logical? No. Did I think for a second there was a snake crawling out of my horses forelock? YES!


This doesn’t look like much, but it is a pretty big deal.

I’ve been trying to convince Heildorf to try body targeting for a very long time. He stands there ignoring me. For as long as he has been here he has been fairly shut down. We’ll find a place where he is willing to step out of his shell and offer a behavior. He gets a little happier and more willing to work but there is so much of him left guarded and hidden from us.

Every little door he opens I try to great with the enthusiasm it deserves.

Here I asked him to walk in a circle with me, no leadropes involved.

He didn’t do what I asked. It could be called willful disobedience. In many cases it would be if not punished, still corrected and he would be steered back to what was actually asked of him.

Instead I waited. I’m used to Harvey turning his hind end to me. If that weren’t a common occurrence I probably would have been more concerned. Waiting and watching I saw Heildorf thinking. He wasn’t showing any threatening behaviors. If he had been moving would have been a wiser action than standing there.

He was acting just like Harvey does, seeking approval and wearing his thinking ears. Horses have a definite look about them when they are thinking hard. He was experimenting, testing the waters.

I touched his hip and clicked. He kept trying. I was cuing the wrong behavior. It was his front end he was experimenting with. I was conditioned by Harvey to expect the hind end. He offered again and I got it right this time.

Because he was thinking and experimenting on his own we got shoulder targeting down in a couple of minutes. Then moved to the other side and got that one too. We were even able to negotiate a little hind end targeting.

By accepting what he offered instead of forcing what I thought we ought to do he learned that he gets a say in these things. He learned to ask if we can do something different. Now he has a new behavior well on its way to being cemented.

Letting our horses have ideas of their own leads us to far greater abilities than if we insist on making them only do what we ask when we ask. While there is a time and place for immediate response without thought or question there is also plenty of room for conversation.

I would love to know what was going through his head when he decided this was what he felt like doing.


It was hot.

Summer is always hot but this was exceptional. The year had been bone dry. No rain, no grass, no hay to be putting up. That was why I was there in the first place. Without the usual hay to put up there was time for things like horse shows. This was not the first or the last of the days well up into the hundreds.

Luckily the showgrounds were set on the banks of Rapid Creek. The river ran through town and was probably pretty nasty by the time it got to where we were. The horses didn’t mind though. It was still cool and refreshing. I had a parking spot right next to the path that lead down into the water.

In between classes and almost every time she dried out I lead or rode Jerry down the shallow bank and out into belly deep water. When I rode we waded right inn. When I lead her I walked to the edge and let her go as far as she wanted on the end or the lead. Even in one hundred and ten degree weather it wasn’t worth walking around in wet jeans. The soaking made her able to perform enthusiastically in our first class. She worked her heart out, walked quietly through the trail portion, stopped hard in the reining, and went after the cow hard and fast. We placed nicely in the amateur ranch horse class.

I was proud of my little gaited Morgan mare. She was tiny at about 14.2hh. Her coat shown like a copper penny, brilliantly orange. She was a delicate refined little mare, unmistakably feminine. Did I mention gaited? Out there with her belly in the dirt she would pace back and forth cutting the cattle. People told me a gaited horse couldn’t work cattle. She did it anyway.

We had done well in our class. She was proving herself capable. So I had entered us inn the open class.

It would be a bit much for us but might as well enter as many classes as possible. It had been a long drive, might as well make it worth it.

As the time for the open class got closer clouds appeared in the sky to the west. Sitting at the gate waiting our turn the wind hit. The judges umbrella took off across the arena. Sand blew everywhere. It  was our turn to go in the gate.

Then the rain started.

Rain storms in  droughts are not kind. They  bring more trouble than they are worth almost bringing damage and seldom much moisture. We entered the arena pushing into rain that blew down sideways. It pelted our eyes so hard I could barely see. Jerry turned her head against it and walked forward with a slight prance to her step.

We made it through our run. I think  the rain stopped by the time we worked our steer. Jerry carried herself with her usual aplomb, as honest and willing in the arena as she always was at home. The rest of the competitors rode in dry weather even the wind gone. Rain storm and all she took seventh that day in our first open class. She finished that year and the next, just as hot and dry, winning or placing well in every class we entered.

It’s amazing what a little horse can accomplish when no one tells her she can’t do it.

For The Academy, Lady Target Training

It’s fun to share exciting videos of our horses doing great things.
That doesn’t mean we don’t all spend lots of time doing the basics.
Lady is my children’s horse. Although Rusty is quickly becoming that as well 😏 She’s older, she’s great the way she is, she never gets any ‘training’. I just throw kids on her and we go.
I thought it would be fun if the kids could get in on the tricks, so here Lady is starting on targeting. This is about the middle of the session. Right as she went from spending minutes searching me for treats and staring around to really getting the idea and going for the target!
I switched to holding the treat in my hand so it was there ti giver immediately after the click. That seemed to help her put the two together. If I had spent any time loading the clicker or working on treat manners instead of starting in the middle she probably would have understood better without that to speed things along.

Spanish Walk

We do Spanish walk around here.
It isn’t exactly on purpose. Maybe the first time. After that we just fell into it.
Harvey has always wanted to do these huge exaggerated paws. It was hard forcing myself to wait until he had good manners to begin encouraging the bad ones 😆
Heildorf was out working with me and Harvey or Rusty, One of the horses. He’s very smart. He watched them get rewarded for it and decided to try it out himself! You could say he’s self taught.
Because it’s something we do all the time I sometimes forget that we should work on it.
We do it, but without skill or grace. Harvey falls out with his hind end. Is is strung out and uncoordinated. Heildorf has never actually been trained to step big. He just offers it occasionally hoping for a treat.
We need to get our act together and make this thing pretty!!

For The Horse Whorl Forum Page

Reading whorls has been folklore and superstition. But it has been consistent in the different cultures and locals. That is one way we can know there must be something to it.

Everyone has reached the same basic conclusions. Separately.

Buddy Reno commented recently about his experiences involving whorls that he “learned about all the different whorls on the forehead from an old horse trader about 30 yrs ago, and I’ve been shoeing horses for 35 yrs so I’ve had a never ending supply of horses to compare behavior to whorls , I’m a firm believer.”
The conclusions Buddy and his “old horse trader” friend reached are basically the same as the ones I have reached. He also takes into consideration how a horse has been handled because ” how broke they are cause a bad owner can make a good horse bad”.
Once that has been considered though. He says “I’ve found basically, 1 swirl center between the eyes is a horse that is just easy and willing and very competitive because they don’t have any hang ups, they are generally not a hot horse or a lazy horse just solid minded, Now the higher up the face the swirl is then the thinner skinned and flighty they become, then the Lower the swirl goes they start out layed back the that starts turning into stubborn, you can look at a mules swirl and it’s way Down the nose, if there’s 2 swirls then that horse is over reactive , they tend to blow up for no reason and you’ll be standing there saying what the hell was that for, they are quirky, doesn’t mean they can’t make a good horse as long as your aware of how they are, then 3 or more swirls , that horse is a character , busy minded, easy to teach tricks to cause they are usually curious, a line Down the face means a really friendly horse , loves people”
The phrasing and exact ideas may be slightly different but the foundation ideas are the same. As in all things if it was too similar we would have to suspect a shared source. The differences in wording and thoughts actually supports the similarities instead of disproving them.
It’s always fun to compare different peoples ideas. How do you judge whorls? Are there any rules you go by when choosing a horse?