Swirls, whorls, or cowlicks…do they mean anything?

 I’ve never paid much attention to them but I’ve become more curious about the topic recently.

What is a swirl?  A swirl or whorl is a patch of hair that grows in the opposite direction of the hair that surrounds it. These swirls are commonly found on the horses forehead and face.  If these patches are found on the body they are called cowlicks.   It is said that swirls develop in the fetus horse at the same time as the nervous system.  I am wondering…do these hair patches have anything to do with a horse’s temperament?

Swirls on horses have been studied for thousands of years.  It is thought that swirl research began with the Bedouin trainers in Arabia and European Gypsies. Trainers throughout history have recorded swirl vs. horse behavior and have found the following consistent results.

  • a single swirl in the center of the forehead = an uncomplicated nature.
  • a single swirl centered below the level of the eyes = an intelligent, possibly mischievous or more reactive nature
  • a single, long swirl between or extending below the eyes = a friendly, agreeable nature
  • two or more swirls high on the forehead = a complicated nature
  • two swirls on top of each other = personality swings, unpredictable
  • two side by side swirls high on forehead = super focused and talented, but challenging in the wrong hands.
  • swirl turns counterclockwise the horse is left “handed” or hoofed.
  • swirl turns clockwise the horse is right “handed” or hoofed.
  • cowlicks all over body = spooky, flighty in nature
  • very few cowlicks = relaxed in nature

So after reading about swirlology I took a trip outside to really examine my boys and I found that

Anton has a center clockwise swirl at eye level.  He has only a couple of cowlicks on his body.  He is very sweet, calm, and has an uncomplicated nature.  Austin has a higher, longer counter clockwise swirl indicating he is intelligent and has a more reactive nature but is very friendly.  He also has a few cowlicks on his neck and belly which according to research indicates he is a bit flighty/spooky.

I’d say my swirl observation vs. my horse’s behavior is pretty right on.

Perhaps I will take into account swirl patterns the next time I buy a horse but certain swirl patterns won’t be a deal breaker for me.

Have you examined the swirls on your horse?  Do the above findings match their temperament?    Would a certain swirl pattern be a deal breaker when purchasing a new horse?  Let us know in the comment section below!


Erin Gouveia of Silver Oaks Farm is an accomplished equestrian, award winning photographer, and an artist.   She was born and raised in San Diego, California, graduated from Colorado State University, and now resides in Park City, Utah on a small ranch with her husband.  She has had careers in Medical Research, Zookeeping, and most currently Photographer at Erin Kate Photography.

Follow Erin on Instagram at @silveroaksfarm and find her equestrian inspired fine art photographs and handmade goods in her Etsy shop SilverOaksFarm.

July 21, 2020
July 23, 2020