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Can you really tell anything about the character of a horse by looking at its face? Research from Poland suggests that a horse’s appearance may give an indication of its temperament.

Dr Aleksandra Górecka and colleagues studied the relationship between the position of whorls (cowlicks) on the horse’s head and the horse’s manageability. A full report of their work is published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science.

Fifty-five yearling or two-year old Polish Konik horses were used for the study. Thirty-one had been reared until weaning under either semi-natural conditions in a forest reserve. The rest had been managed under conventional stable conditions.

Horses learn visual tasks better at ground level

Attitudes to vices: survey findings.

Search for new approach to equine stereotypies

Effect of light on loading

Whorl position and temperament

Report by Mark Andrews. Published 2006

The position of the hair whorl on the face was recorded: above upper eye level (“high”); between the eyes (“medium “); below lower eye level (“low “); and double or elongated whorls.

The researchers used various tests to assess the horses’ manageability. They gave each horse a “handling score” depending on how it responded to being led and
having its legs picked up. They also recorded the horse’s response to being startled, and how long it took to investigate a new object.

They found that in most horses, the facial whorl lay between the eyes. Horses with a high whorl position were significantly more difficult to handle than horses with whorls in either a low or medium position

Elongated and double whorls were found only in the forest-reared animals. Horses with this type of whorl took longer to approach a novel object than horses with whorls in a low or medium position.

The response to being startled was not related to the position of the whorl. Neither did the researchers find any relationship between position of whorl and heart rate during the tests.

They suggest that horses with a high facial whorl might be expected to be more stubborn when handled without being more flighty when startled. Horses with double or elongated whorls may be more cautious, although not more difficult to handle or easily startled.

A note on behaviour and heart rate in horses differing in facial hair whorl.
Aleksandra Górecka, Malgorzata Golonka, Michal Chruszczewski, Tadeusz Jezierski.
Applied Animal Behaviour Science (2006)