A friend and Fell Pony owner recently contacted me about whorls. These hair patterns are used by the Fell Pony Society as identifiers for ponies, but my friend was interested in what they communicate about temperament. A trainer had told my friend that the position of the whorl on the head told him a lot about the training job ahead of him. My friend asked me to survey my herd to see if my experience reflects the trainer’s theory: that whorls above the eyes indicate harder to train and whorls below the eyes indicate easier to train. My friend and I have often talked about challenging ponies, so I was interested to see what I would find in my herd.
At the time, I had ten Fell Ponies. Only two of the ten supported the trainer’s theory. I had recently been perusing Linda Tellington-Jones’ book Getting in TTouch: Understand and Influence Your Horse’s Personality. It includes a discussion of whorls, so I consulted it to see what she had to say on the topic. Her treatment of the subject was much broader than my friend’s trainer’s. In 1965 Tellington-Jones and her husband sent out surveys to horse owners and got 1500 responses. She found that a single swirl centered between or above the eyes is common on the majority of horses. If the whorl is offset to one side or has a different pattern, then there is more information to glean.
All of my ponies’ whorls are singular and are centered; a few are below the eyes but most are at or above eye level. A few Fell Ponies that I’ve heard about have offsets or more complicated patterns. One Fell Pony that I know has a whorl offset to the right. Tellington-Jones says, “Horses who have a swirl set a bit to the right of center may be less cooperative than those with the pattern in the center or to the left.” (1) This pony has indeed frustrated its owner and trainers when being started under saddle.
Tellington-Jones says that a single swirl centered between the eyes indicates a horse of uncomplicated nature. The pony I find most challenging has a whorl dead center between her eyes, and I find her to be anything but uncomplicated. I therefore took the following statement by Tellington-Jones to heart: “[Let] me emphasize that when conducting a personality analysis, swirls must not be read simply on their own but rather as one of numerous contributing factors.” (2)
I suspect my friend’s trainer has enough horse experience that he takes in more than just whorl patterns when developing an initial assessment of a horse’s temperament, though he may not realize it. Rarely have I found anything to do with equines to be simply boiled down to such a thing as the location of a whorl on the head. I appreciate Tellington-Jones’ more in-depth treatment of the subject, and the caveat that whorl type and location is only one of several indicators that can be gleaned visually from a horse about its temperament.
1) Tellington-Jones, Linda. Getting in TTouch: Understand and Influence Your Horse’s Personality. Trafalgar Square Publishing, North Pomfret, Vermont, 1995, p. 40.
2) Tellington-Jones, p. 39.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2012