Horse Swirling Controversy

Most of us have heard this old rhyme at one time or another.

“One white foot buy him, Two white feet try him, Three, look well about him, Four, go home without him.”

Often when someone is considering purchasing, the other party will chime in with something like: “You know what they say about horses with four white feet!” Or ” You know what they say about a horse’s swirls on their forehead!”

Whether or not there is much truth to this rhyme no one knows for sure.

Yet some say, there has been some correlation between white feet and personality. Some will say misinterpretation of the rhyme over the years, and that it actually has to do with the color of the horse’s hooves, rather than his socks. White hooves were considered poorer quality than darker hooves, hence the more “white feet” a horse had, the more cautious you needed to be.




A whorl or swirl is a patch of hair growing in the opposite direction of the surrounding hair, usually in a pinwheel fashion. (also sometimes known as rosettes, and cowlicks) are unique to each horse. No two hair patterns are the same. They are most often found on the head, neck, chest and flank, though some horses have them in some very creative places. Some of you may have seen your veterinarian recording them if you have recently had something like a Coggins or a passport done for your horse – they can be used to help identify your horse. People have been analyzing these patterns for centuries to delve deeper into equine behavior characteristics

From the most ancient times, man has studied the world around him for signs and clues. Horses have been a huge fascination since 30,000 BC when they were first drawn on the walls of caves. Ancient students of the horse may have studied things and made conclusions that we find foolish today. But as with everything that is old and becomes new again, the study of swirls, although rarely shared insights, experiences and knowledge, has always has had its believers. Here we will uncover some of the ideas and help you better understand how they work and influence who and what your horse is and who and what he may become.

One swirl, well below eyes – These horses tend to be overly intelligent thinkers. Some riders view them as nuisances, because they can be rather creative and smart and require an extra bit of tact on your part to correctly direct this energy.

One swirl, between (or above) eyes – Fairly common, and generally less telling of a horse’s character than some of the rarer or more interesting swirls. Said to indicate an uncomplicated temperament. Horses with this swirl set more to the right tend to be slightly less co-operative.

Extended swirl – These horses tend to be very people oriented, pleasant and friendly.

Two vertical swirls or horizontal swirls – A higher percentage of these horses are rather sensitive and emotional. They can overreact at unexpected moments and are easily upset. They do not respond well to correction, and only become more resistant. These complicated horses can be very talented with the right rider.

Three vertical swirls, three swirls in a pyramid, or three in an upside down pyramid – Some of the rarer patterns. In most cases, these horses can be complex but not unreliable. However, 80% of stallions with this marking were unpredictable.

-In one study, Irish researchers found a correlation between a horse’s facial markings and whether the horses were right or left “handed” (motor skills better to the right or left). Horses with clockwise swirls tended to be “right handed”, while horses with counterclockwise swirls tended to be “left handed”.

-Scientific studies l=ink abnormal hair swirls with brain development and temperament. This has been most intensively studied in cows, but also in humans and apes.

-Bedouin horsemen placed significance on their Arabians’ swirls. Swirls were said to indicate everything from prosperity, safety and good fortune to ruin, death and famine.

When doing this type of assessment, look at all the physical characteristics mentioned earlier in the article to develop a well-rounded appraisal of your horse. Go around the barn with your friends, look at the various horses you know well and see what you find out. It can be very entertaining!

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