When Fell Pony breeders apply for registration of their foals, identifying characteristics must be noted on the passport application. Whorls are one characteristic that is to be noted, with several different whorl shapes to be distinguished between. I find the whorl portion of the passport application to be the most challenging because I inevitably wait into the fall to fill the application out, and the foals’ winter coats have come in, making the whorls harder to find. Fortunately I take lots of baby pictures, so I am able to go back and look at hair coats at a younger age to answer questions about whorls.
A 2016 study at Colorado State University gave new interest to whorls, especially those on the forehead which are common in Fell Ponies. “New research suggests there’s a surprisingly simple way of predicting whether a spooking horse will turn to the right or left: Check out his facial whorls.” (1) Fell Ponies aren’t particularly spooky, so the research may not be of significant interest to Fell Pony owners. The general idea, though, was that an equine with a whorl whose hairs turn in a counterclockwise direction when viewed straight on was more likely to spin left when startled with an opening umbrella.
In 2017 I had a foal with a whorl pattern on its forehead that I’d never seen before. There were two whorls side by side with the hairs radiating out in different directions. When I read about the ‘whirls and whorls’ research, I curiously wondered, which way will this filly go? Will she go straight up? I did see her take an amazing flying leap over a brush pile once. Will she go one way or the other depending on the situation? Or is there another possibility? She was definitely one of the mellower foals I’ve ever had, so maybe she’ll just calmly take in a startling event, standing still. I never tried the umbrella experiment on her when she was here to find out, but I’ll certainly pay more attention to ‘whirls and whorls’ in my ponies in the future!
- Barakat, Christine and Mick McCluskey. “Whirls and Hair Whorls,” Equus #470, November 2016, p. 18.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018
If you enjoy stories like this one, you'll also enjoy the book What An Honor, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.