Lots of horses have whorls down the underside of their necks. Most of them are small enough that they don’t make a lot of difference. A small whorl will be a small spot in the neck where the neck will be straighter. There will be a little bit of extra muscling there.
As the whorls get bigger the effect they have will grow. Long whorls the length of the neck will make a major difference in how the horse carries the neck. What that difference will be depends on the type of whorl. There are two basic types of whorls that take up space under the neck.
A zipper whorl is narrow and tight. The hair grows towards center making a ridge along the middle of the whorl. These whorls lead to an arched neck. A high arched neck if they are only on the neck, or a low neck that is carried forward instead of up but rounds nicely if the whorl goes down into the chest. These horses have a natural tendency to carry themselves balanced and working off the hindquarters.
An open splaying whorl, for lack of a better name, has hair that grows outward from center. If there is a ridge of hair it is along the outer edges of the whorl, circling it like a frame. A neck will curve downward into these whorls. Often horses with open splaying whorls will be built down hill and want to carry their noses in the air. With poor riding these whorls can accompany horses who will be uncomfortable and poorly balanced. They need help finding a good way to carry themselves.
Two very similar whorls with two very different outcomes. The small details are always important.
Looking at the forehead whorls on horses is understood and there are fairly basic rules. High shows an extrovert. Low shows and introvert. That much is simple.
What happens when we start looking at some not so basic equines though?
Most mules and donkeys have low whorls. Those low whorls almost always have feathering. Does that mean that all donkeys and mules, I’ll call them long ears for ease of typing, are left brain introverts? Is there so little variation among them?
No, It doesn’t.
Long ears are different than horses in more ways than just the ears. Whorls on horses are located in close relation to the olfactory bulbs. The olfactory bulbs receive information about smells from the nose and send it to the brain by way of the olfactory tracts. These are very important to equines who have such a strong sense of smell. It isn’t surprising that whorls would be related closely to such a strong link to the brain. The olfactory bulbs in long ears are smaller and rotate inwards. Their whorls are NOT in as close of relation to the olfactory bulbs as horses are.
Instead long ears have whorls that are set farther down the face.
A center whorl on a long ear is half way down their nose in a position that would be an extremely low whorl on a horse. A whorl centered between the eyes is a high whorl for a long ear. There can still be low whorls on donkeys and mules, they are just lower low whorls.
Seeing an extrovert long ear is very possible! They posses all the usual patterns we would expect to see in horses, High whorls, low whorls, even double whorls. The one whorl type that is far more common in long ears than horses is no whorl at all. This shows a right brain animal, emotional and sensitive.
We can apply all the rules of whorls to long ears that we can to horses. We just need to readjust our view a little.
Kisses on a pedestal. In her saddle. Ghost is such a fun girl. She’s willing to try anything, if I ask nicely.
Harvey and I have been working on a small dance routine. Or were before it got so cold. It is a simple collection of movements put together and repeated in the same order, over and over. Not drilled to the point of boredom and misery. The repetition is so that he will know what is coming next. If he can predict what will be next he should be prepared for it and ready as we finish one move to go on to the next.
Almost the exact opposite of anything we ever want in the show ring.
This isn’t the show ring. I would like him to anticipate a little. Be ready to shift his weight back to his hindquarters and perform the next piece.It hasn’t happened yet, but that is the goal.
Everything about Harvey’s conformation makes this difficult for him.He has a ‘swan’ neck that arches sharply just behind the poll. This allows him to tuck his head and have a prettily arched neck while still being completely hollow through the back. He has a long weak back. His hind legs are atrocious. Almost perfectly straight with weak pasterns that are a symptom of the hypermobility that effects his entire body. Because of these things learning to collect and use his body properly is even more important for him than for most horses with better conformation.
In order to make sure this exercise is building good muscle, instead of allowing him to go around dragging himself with his forequarters there are somethings I need to make sure of.
Front legs should always cross over in front when doing any lateral movements! Forward motion is the key to any good movement. If the feet cross behind you do not have it. This counts for the ‘twirl’, moving forequarters, and side passing.
When we do Spanish walk the hind legs need to keep moving! Sometimes they will want to move the front legs forward while the hind legs stay put becoming stretched out behind. We can fix this by clicking as the hind legs come forward and keeping moving before and after we ask for Spanish walk.
For a horse that is ride-able, unlike Harvey, doing some simple exercises like this can help keep them in shape for when the weather is more suitable to riding again. He, we, have a lot more work to do on our little routine before we have it down. It takes a while for the muscles to build up and be fully able to do these things well. Patience is always important.
A single center whorl doesn’t tell us anything about the horses temperament, except that we can’t see any extreme’s from the whorl itself. It is neutral. That doesn’t mean that the horses temperament will be neutral.
Single whorls have a reputation for showing a quiet, dependable horse. That can be true, but isn’t a rule.
Instead when we see a sing;e center whorl we need to look at the rest of the head for clues to the temperament. Often the heads will show that, a simple, dependable horse, who will be straightforward and steady. Other times I’ve seen single whorls on a head that shows a difficult, complicated horse.
This horse has a single center whorl. So we need to look at the rest of the head.The ears are finely shaped, set wide on the head but very upright. That shows intelligence, sensitivity and energy. The eyes are wide set also, set out on the edges of the head. From that we see intelligence, an ability to learn quickly. Without a picture from the side we can’t tell what the profile looks like and the profile gives us some of the most powerful clues. It does give the impression of being mostly straight, mostly steady. The nostrils are wide open and round, alert, lots of room to take in air. They show a horse who will be alert to stimuli, the big nostrils allow lots of room to take in air. They aid a horse in learning quickly because they wont run out of breath. The jowls, also large, show the same thing.
The whorl on this horse is simple. The rest of the head has so much more to tell us.
Rusty has been sore again. It’s been cold. His feet hurt.
The suspected culprit has been cold or winter founder from the beginning. When it gets cold the blood vessels into the feet don’t react properly, the feet get too cold, and you have founder. I’ve been keeping his legs wrapped. The only recommended cures are warmth. It’s either ship him off to a warmer clime or keep him bundled up.
The other thing we are trying is pulling the shoes until spring. The bit of snow we have on the ground was getting balled up in the shoes causing as much trouble as the shoes were fixing. Not that snow wont ball up on bare feet, but hopefully it will be less. The distortion is almost grown all the way out. With the toes trimmed back he should still break over far enough back to keep pressure off his toe. The farrier left a good bit of heel and kept the sole off the ground far enough to keep Rusty comfortable without shoes.
Hopefully he’ll go good barefoot again. I would really prefer to keep him that way. There’s a cold spell coming in. I’m going to double up his wrappings. Keep him as warm as possible. Hopefully spring will come soon.
When we run into problems with our training we fall back to how good our foundation is.
When we run into difficulty our mind doesn’t help us. Usually it does the opposite and zones out. We forget to think and we forget to breath. Our horses are left hanging there by themselves trying to figure out what it is that we are asking of them. They will revert back to what they know best, or like to do best. If our training foundation is strong that can be good treat manners, standing quietly and waiting. If it isn’t they may revert to mugging and looking for treats.
We were asking them to do something, that must mean we meant to feed them, right?
They can also fall back on dangerous behaviors like nipping, running through us, or running off. With most horses the reversion wont be anything dramatic and dangerous, that still doesn’t mean that we want to go there.
By practicing the foundation behaviors over and over again until they are etched into our muscle memory we will automatically revert to them when we run into training trouble. We should reach the point where we automatically ask for, wait for, head forward before clicking and before asking for a trick. We should look for clickable behaviors without having to think about it all while remembering to breath.
Working on the ground, playing with our horses and tricks isn’t likely to be a life or death situation. What we practice in one area will transfer to any other area of work we do. By drilling those basics with our trick training we will remind ourselves to practice basics in all other aspects of our training. You never know, when a good foundation could save you.
This kid. This mare! She’s amazing. There have been moments as children’s interest wains, that I’ve wondered is we did the right thing getting her. Maybe she should go on to a home where other children need her more, would make better use of her.
Then there are days like this.
Trying out his new reins he got for Christmas 8 was tired of being lead. He wanted turned loose to steer all by himself. So we went to the corral and did just that. She’s a zippy little thing. But she never left a walk. She patiently went where asked, acknowledging his try instead of his lack of skill.
Someday he’ll be a great rider. Especially with her there to guide him along the way.
Sold at auction as a yearling, this horse sat in the feedlot until he was three. Luckily for him a loving family happened to drive by and spot him out there. They brought him home with them and he is now living the good life. The first two pictures are him immediately after leaving the feedlot. The rest are later, after he had time to settle in.
He has a single whorl perfectly centered between the eyes. This only shows us that we don’t see any extremes of temperament from the whorl. We need to look at the rest of the head to get an idea of what he will be like.
From the side we see a slightly rounded profile, especially at the muzzle. He will have strong ideas of his own. Tough and determined as well as steady. His ears are set wide on his head showing intelligence and willingness. His head looks as simple and straightforward as we would hope to see with his whorl.
A short zipper whorl up the base of the neck will give a higher headset that arches nicely over the whorl and shows a horse who works well off the hind quarters.This one isn’t simple though it starts at a whorl off to the right side of the neck. The zipper whorl then runs at a slight angle over to the left side of the neck. Even more, the hair around the whorls grows to the right. When there is a single whorl on one side of the body, even when that whorl is connected to a bigger whorl pattern, the horse will turn more easily in the direction of the single whorl. The hair growing to the side adds emphasis to this. He should show some sidedness, a lead preference, an easier time circling one direction over the other. My guess is to the right. He could also bend to the right and throw the left shoulder out causing him to unbalance and take that lead.
It will probably not be a big deal, just something to be aware of.
It looks like the family who happened to drive by a feedlot and fall for the pretty grey horse standing out there mad a good choice.