Whorls: Helping to Identify Left & Right Handed Horses?

I was reading through old veterinary journals and came across a really interesting study carried out by two veterinary researchers, Jack Murphy and Sean Arkins, at the University of Limerick.

After various tests they concluded that if the whorl on a horses forehead spirals clockwise or anti-clockwise indicated if it is left or right footed - similar to who we are left or right handed. This will and has been used as a kind of "insider information" to train the performance horse accordingly.

"It has long been speculated that most horses experience some degree of motor laterality in they they prefer on lead (or side) over the other," said researcher Jack Murphy. "Riders tend to find that most horses have a 'referred; side and gallop, jump and work better on either the left or right rein". This makes complete sense to me, were defined as left or right handed so why shouldn't horses?! Surely others have ridden horses who favour one leg when striking off in canter or find one rein easier to circle on?

The study involved assessing 219 horses with only one facial whorl. Each of these were then classed as being left or right hoofed, based on which hoof the horse led when walking, which side they chose to go round an obstacle and also based on the opinion of their rider.

According to Murphy, significantly more horses were either right (43%) or left handed (47%) compared to only 20 horses that were "well balanced". Interestingly the left handed horses were primarily males (77%) while female horses were more commonly right handed (54%).

The "well balanced" horses did not have any difference in whorl pattern, actually they had a higher incidence of radial whorls rather then being clockwise or counter clockwise.

Confused by all the numbers!? Basically, left handed horses tend to have counter-clockwise whorls (75%) and right handed horses have clockwise whorls (67%)!

So in theory, this information may lead to trainers being able to give their horses a little added advantage. A good example would be racing a left handed horse on a left handed racetrack - and while it's not guaranteed a winner it should increase it's chances!

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