by Hope Holland

In their trip through history people have always had to deal with an unfriendly world. Look at it this way: elephants have size, tusks and trunks, wolves have speed and teeth, sharks have layers of teeth and a voracious appetite. People have brains but that is not much help when about all that you been granted besides that are fingernails and opposable thumbs. When it comes to getting along in a dangerous world we might just as well be in the bunny and chipmunk section with the rest of the genetic victims.

I’m not saying that we have not done very well for ourselves, or very badly if you wish, with the invention of this and that, clubs, arrows, spears and such all the way up to nuclear weapons. But mainly it is our brain that we rely on with its (admittedly more or less depending on the person, the day and the discovery of caffeinated beverages) powers of reasoning.

And this is probably why, when we are dealing regularly with horses that we have our little bits of wisdom that we pass along to one another. It is old wisdom, passed down from one horseman to another, part observation, part experience and, yes, maybe even part wishful thinking. I mean, life should be so easy. Especially life with an animal that outweighs you by 800-plus pounds that you mean to sit upon, one that, furthermore, is given to sulks, flights of fancy and which can have its own bad days. Thinking about that, it makes you wonder why we do this in the first place.

The wisdom that is passed down is often of a warning nature and will serve one elsewhere than in the stable. The adage ‘you can tell a gelding and discuss it with a stallion but you must ask a mare’ could have come right out of kitchen and into the barn. But either way, it is very good advice.

Then there is wisdom from the pre-veterinary years—a period of time that far exceeds the actual veterinary years themselves. ‘One white foot, buy a horse; two white feet, try a horse; three white feet look well about him; four white feet do without him!’ In this case the “white foot” refers to the lighter colored hooves that are often shelly and not able to hold a shoe as well as the black hooves that seem to be tougher under use. The corollary to this little rhyme is straight to the point and very true, “No hoof, no horse”.

From there we go to the relatively unproven (by any scientific methods so far) dealing with whorls of hair that occur on the face and in several different places on a horse’s body. Just because it is wholly unproven by science does not mean that it doesn’t have its absolute defenders who will swear by it.

Some old timers have said the whorl pattern on a horse’s forehead can be the gateway to the horse’s personality. A swirl located between the eyes indicates an easy-going, uncomplicated horse. Swirls higher on the forehead indicate intelligence and a more reactive nature. Long swirls, especially those that extend below the eye indicate a friendly and agreeable nature. Multiple swirls can indicate multiple personalities. High and tight side by side swirls can mean a horse that is super focused and talented, but challenging and difficult in the wrong hands. Two swirls on top of each other can mean extreme personality swings and unpredictability. Multiple swirls that form a Z pattern can signal a horse that is dangerous and violent. The direction that the whorl turns can tell you if the horse is right or left “handed” (or hoofed). If the whorl flows counterclockwise it is left “handed”. If the whorl flows clockwise it is right “handed”.

All of this information can be taken with a grain of salt, of course. But it can also be taken with an apple, which if you eat it will keep the doctor away. Or you could feed that apple to a nearby horse and it would go a long way towards making friends which is always a good thing, isn’t it?