Grey Mare, Horsewhorls

This mare has a single center whorl. That doesn’t make her simple. A single center whorl only shows that we can’t see any extremes of temperament from the whorl. It is still completely possible to see extremes from the head shape. Not that we see any extremes here, we also don’t see anything boring and simple.

From the front we can’t get a true reading of her eyes. This is why it’s so important to remember that pictures are only a moment in time. If the horse is in a normal state that works great. When the horse is stressed or nervous, like here, we could get a completely wrong reading from this moment in time. The ears are wide set and fairly broad themselves for an intelligent, willing horse.

From the side we see a hint of a dish and a hint of a moose nose for a sensitive but bold, confident horse. Nothing extreme but not overly simple. Her muzzle is squared off, steady, her jowl large, athletic. Her eyes stand out the most to me. It could be her black eyeliner that makes them seem so exotic. They look to be strongly almond shaped. She will hold judgement and see what she thinks about things instead of going along with the flow.

Her mane switches sides about two thirds of the way down. I would check for soreness. It could be something very small or it could interfere with future training.


Bad Luck Whorls, Horsewhorls

According to tradition some whorls are bad luck.

That is such a broad term. What exactly does it mean? How did someone decide such a thing?

I’m not one for superstition so I enjoy breaking it down and looking at possible causes for such superstition. One of the most famous whorls, and one of the easiest to break down is the shredded collar, a ‘wheat’ whorl up the base of the neck. First what does a wheat whorl look like? There are so many different types of whorls that appear on the base of the neck. Does that mean they are all ‘bad’?

I interpret the ‘wheat whorl’ as a big open splaying whorl, a wide line with the hair growing outwards from the center. That might not be the original interpretation. So many of these things are left to our imagination.

So why would this be bad luck?

This type of whorl will draw a horse down onto their forequarters and often accompanies a very downhill build. The neck will often be ewed and upside down. Some descriptions talk about wheat whorls that extend the entire length of the neck and down into the chest. This would exaggerate the effects even more so. That leaves us with a horse who is out of balance, working on the front end with the hind end not engaged. When a horse moves like this they are far more prone to lameness and tripping. Extreme lack of balance can lead to behavior issues that may lead a person to decide a horse is crazy. The horse in this picture would buck when pushed beyond what his body was capable of offering. When a good trainer stepped back and allowed him time to build the muscle and mental capability to perform the tasks asked of him he was a steady willing mount.

“Bad luck’ is a loose term that doesn’t help us at all in horse training. If, instead of dismissing problems as luck that we are unable to change, we look for physical issues behind the bad luck we are far better able to diagnose and fix the problems causing the bad luck. There are no bad whorls, not even this one.


Whorl Bias, Horse Whorls

Every horse should be judged according to their own individual nature.

If we look at a horse’s whorl wont it predispose us to judge them based on what we think the whorl tells us about them instead of who they tell us they are?

This is a very important point and not one to be dismissed. All horses are individuals. Even when born with a set of traits the way they are raised and the life they experience will change the way those original traits are expressed.

That said, even with the differences caused to nature by nurture, using the whorls to give us an idea about the horse in front of us can never hurt. Some of the old whorl lore tells us of horses that are bad or at least bad luck. If we go by that then yes, there can be harm. Instead we need to dismiss any idea of bad and simply accept different horses as just that, different. By looking at horses with that view we can use whorls to see beneath damage caused by life and see the horse they could have been instead. We can use the whorls to find a way to reach the best possible potential any horse has to give.

Whorls don’t cause bias against any horse. Instead they provide a deeper view of what is going on inside and how we can help the best possible traits rise to the top.

Counting With Rusty

Rusty is learning to count. He and Harvey both. I have to admit that Harvey is better at it. That doesn’t mean Rusty isn’t good, just that he’s not quite as good.

Each horse has their own style and way of doing things. Harvey is working towards tricks that best use his skills, Rusty is working the opposite direction using his own unique skill set.

With Rusty we’re playing at having him choose the number of cones that matches the number I’m holding up. Technically this is easily cheatable. He picks up cones until I click. In fact I’m not sure there’s a way for him to do this without cheating at it. Maybe we’ll have to rethink it a little. Until then here is Rusty handing me the number of cones to match the number I’m holding up. What a good smart pony.


I woke up one morning with a plan fully formed to teach my horses numbers and counting. I love when that sort of thing happens. I’ve been without concret goals for horse training for awhile now. It’s good to have a goal to work towards.

Can a horse learn to count?

Yes and no. A horse wont have the same concept of numbers that we do. They don’t, to the best of our knowledge, grasp abstract ideas.

But, there’s no reason a horse can’t understand that a number (picture) goes with a word (cue). We are taking that a step farther by adding a number of cones and teaching a number (picture) that goes with it. Harvey doesn’t seem to be having any trouble at all with that idea. This was his third time working with this idea and he is doing amazing.

He is getting a couple of days off now. Partially on purpose. This is a lot of mental work and stress I’m putting on him. Everyone needs a break from that sometimes. But also, horses learn best with some dwell time. Time to process what they’ve been doing, let it sink in a little.

We’ll see if he remembers next time we get to play.

Terms In Practice

We are just finishing up a month of looking at the terms we use in training. I’m a bit late with this but better lat than never.

I thought it would be fun to take a look at the words we’ve been studying in action. See how they apply in practice. And maybe some words we didn’t talk about but that we should know.

This video starts out with negative punishment. When we hear the word punishment we think bad. Not something we want to use! In scientific terms is simply means something that stops a behavior from happening. In the same way that a reinforcer encourages a behavior to happen again. The negative here doesn’t mean bad, it means removing something.

In short negative punishment means stopping a behavior from happening by taking something away.

I don’t want Harvey to pick up the cone so I am not rewarding him for it, I’m removing the treat he hopes to get.

Then we try again. I click too late. I was trying to click before he bit the cone. Instead I end up rewarding what I don’t want. Yes, this messes up our training but once we’ve clicked the horse gets a reward. Those are the terms of our bargain with the horses. I will not break them, I’ll just do better next time. I can just give one tiny pellet though, a tiny reward.

Then finally we both get it right! I click before he can pick up the cone and reward enthusiastically.

A bit of treat manners in there. Never ask for a trick while they are mugging you! The trick is a tertiary reinforcer, something that tells them they will soon be getting the secondary reinforcer, the click, then the reinforcer itself, the treat. That’s a lot of different names for a reward. We can break that down into simpler terms. The trick tells them the reward is coming, making the trick itself a bit of a reward. If we ask for the trick while the horse is mugging us we are rewarding the mugging and teaching bad treat manners.

Then Harvey gets the behavior I want right again! We never want to stop too long at one part of the whole picture. As a general rule getting the behavior right three times in a row tells us it is time to move on. Harvey got it twice. I know my horse and am happy to come back to this as often as we need to. I decided to throw in the next piece of the puzzle. I asked him to touch the card in my hand. I will chain the two behaviors together to make one trick that will only be rewarded after both pieces have been done.

To start with I’m going to reward for both, but only for a short time as he begins to understand what I’m asking. If I reward for both for too long he will get upset at only being rewarded for one. I will go back and forth for awhile rewarding after the last behavior and rewarding for both as we refine the exact behavior. I will need to reward for NOT picking up the cone quite a bit before he can just look at the cone then choose the number it matches.

Harvey is such a quick learner that he gets the idea immediately! He looks at the cone then chooses the right number after one try. That doesn’t mean we are done. This is a good place to stop though. Horses learn best with a bit of dwell time to think about what you worked on. It isn’t the end of the trick either. He needs more than one number to choose between for there to be any actual choice. The end goal here is for him to count the cones and choose the number that tells us how many cones there are. Lofty goals but by breaking things down and using all these tools at our disposal it is something he can easily accomplish!



When a behavior is performed freely by the horse and we are able to reward it to encourage the behavior to occur again.

So many times we will look out and see our horses doing something incredible or just incredibly silly. If only we could get them to do these things when we ask them to!

Capturing a behavior is exactly that. Taking the things a horse does naturally and getting them to do it again, when we ask. We can do that by using our handy clicker. It allows us to ‘capture’ anything that we are there to see happen. Using capturing is an easy way to teach many tricks. Laying down for example.

When your horse goes to roll, click and reward. It is that easy.

Does that mean you have to wait patiently for your horse to offer a behavior by chance? Not at all! We can set up the environment to encourage our horses to offer a desired behavior. What will cause a horse to want to roll? Riding, a bath, a good place to roll. We can introduce these things to the horse so that they will be more likely to offer the behavior we want to capture. Go for a nice ride, give a bath, trickle water down your horses back. Take you horse to a good soft spot with deep dirt. Then wait. By introducing all the necessary ingredients our horses will most likely be happy to offer the behavior we are looking for allowing us to capture it.

What other behaviors do you like to or have you been able to capture with your horse?


I decided that it would be fun to teach the horses numbers and see how far we could go with it from there. They already know colors. Numbers are the same concept, put a cue, word, with an object. What else can we do with it though? Can they learn an order? How about addition? Can they pair the picture, number, with a number of objects?

Double Whorled Complications

The slightest change in the location of a horse’s whorls can make huge differences in temperament.

No where is that more difficult to figure out than in side by side and diagonal double whorls. These whorls show almost exact opposites in temperament types among horses. The whorls themselves can be almost impossible to tell apart!

High side by side doubles can be two very clear whorls, in a straight horizontal line, touching or very close to each other. Or, one whorl can be barely visible, there can be lots of feathering, or not, or, most difficult of all, they can be set at a slight angle. When the side by side whorls are at a slight angle they have to be perfectly clear. The whorls can’t be faint and they do have to be very close together. These horses are extroverts, bold, brave, sensitive, will let you know exactly what they are thinking.

Diagonal double whorls are always set at an angle to each other, they can be set at a small distance apart. In fact that is one way to tell the difference. Diagonal double whorls are usually an inch or so apart and one of them is usually very faint and hard to see, a ghost whorl. Feathering will arch over, or under, the two whorls connecting them. When a diagonal double whorl looks like this they are easy to recognize. These horses are introverts, hesitant, need time to think things through, will draw into themselves and not show a reaction until they explode if you keep pushing and miss the subtle signs they’re upset.

The difficulty comes when the diagonal double is clear, easy to see, set close together, and only at a slight angle.

How do we tell this apart from a side by side double at a slight angle?

I don’t have a good answer. One possible way would be ears and head shape. Introverts tend to carry their ears back. Not laid back and mad, just facing backwards. Side by side whorls tend to have moose noses, bold features, convex, and sensitive. Right brain introverts tend to have very sensitive features and can also have convex profiles, making the difference even harder to tell.

So where do we draw the line? How do we tell for sure which diagonal double whorl will be introverts and which extrovert? I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to that. Here’s to more learning and getting this figured out!

These two horses are not going to help solve this puzzle. One is a diagonal double the other side by side, according to their owners descriptions of temperament. Can you guess which is which? If we look closely there is a small difference in the whorl placement that seems to be our only clue.