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Behav Processes. 2008 Sep;79(1):7-12. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2008.03.006. Epub 2008 Apr 11.

Facial hair whorls (trichoglyphs) and the incidence of motor laterality in the horse.

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Department of Life Sciences, University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland.


Several species demonstrate obvious motor laterality (sidedness, handedness) in their motor function. Motor laterality in the horse affects locomotion and subsequently equine performance during training and may have inherent safety implications for equitation. Some of the most commonly used identification features in the horse are hair whorls (trichoglyphs), since their specific location and character vary to some degree in every horse. We investigated the relationship between the hair flow of single facial hair whorls and the incidence of lateralised motor bias in 219 horses when under saddle in ridden work. The horses exhibited significant differences in motor preferences with 104 left-lateralised (LL) horses, 95 right-lateralised (RL) horses compared to only 20 well-balanced (WB) horses (chi(2)=36.9, d.f.=2, P<0.01). There was also a significant difference in the frequency distribution of single facial hair whorl patterns in the horses consisting of 114 horses with counter-clockwise (CC) whorls, 82 horses with clockwise (C) whorls and 23 horses, which had radial (R) whorls (chi(2)=38.87, d.f.=2, P<0.01). Overall there was a statistically significant association between motor behaviour and facial hair whorl patterns in the horses (chi(2)=69.4, d.f.=4, P>0.001). The RL horses had significantly more C facial hair whorls and the LL horses had significantly more CC facial hair whorls than would be expected purely by chance alone (P<0.05). The findings may provide trainers with a useful tool when attempting to identify simple, non-invasive and reliable predictors of motor laterality in the horse. Furthermore, given that efficient targeted training of performance horses during ridden work may produce WB equine athletes, the findings could assist trainers when designing individual-specific training programmes for young horses.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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