Back in April of 2021, I wrote an article on sworls/whorls/swirls. I find it fascinating and many times a good predicter of certain equine characteristics and disposition. I recently saw an article in Western Horseman that had a few new ones on me, so see what you think. If you have photos of a horse with some of the more bizarre sworls, please send them to us and be sure to weigh in on what you notice about your horse and its sworls.

Interestingly, the brain and hair are created at the same time, from the same embryonic layer, so there appears to be some science in the correlation of the two as it relates to fear response and trainability.
Several very famous equine folks have studied this (Doug Carpenter, Temple Grandin, and Linda Tellington Jones to name a few).

Sworls can be clockwise or counterclockwise on their face, chest, legs, back, neck, poll, stomach and flank. Has anyone noticed a difference in the horse who has sworls that go counterclockwise?

The normal place for a forehead sworl is directly between the eyes. If it is higher, they can be busy minded and lower can mean more complacent. See below how to guage if your horse’s is high, low or just in the middle.

The tighter the hair is coiled, the more focused their mind will be.

Double or triple whorls on the head or neck can indicate multiple personalities.
Boy, have I seen that one be true!

A girth whorl can indicate a horse who’s cinchy. I’ve seen that one bear out also.

Here are a few I’d never heard before: a sworl on the check can be a bad omen
for debt or ruin!

Mules often have sworls on their ears, a sign of focused energy.

Horses with no poll whorls don’t flex vertically very easily. I have seen horses with whorls half way down their neck that didn’t break at the poll but instead tried to break furth down their neck and also when they’ve had one on only one side of their neck, be less supple in that direction.

A horse will carry it’s head higher if it has a sworl under it’s throatlatch.

A centered chest whorl was thought to indicate prosperity. (I’m not sure if that means for the horse or the owner though!)

A back whorl can indicate a bucker.

If a horse has front leg whorls on the back or the side of them, he can be shorterstrided.

A tail whorl can indicate a horse who will wring it’s tail.

We’d love to hear your observations and see pictures of any out of the ordinary whorls you’ve seen!

Collection by Warwick Schiller

Collection by Warwick Schiller

Here’s an article that Barb’s and my friend Warwick Schiller did for Horse and Rider magazine in 2019. It was just republished and is still so very true that I wanted to share it with all of you. It’s about collection and an intriguing way to achieve it. It’s an excellent thing to work on no matter your chosen discipline. I hope you enjoy the utter simplicity of it!

“Self-carriage”—what is it? A horse with self-carriage moves with bundled energy, pushing off vigorously with his hind end. To do so, he must change the shape of his body, picking up his shoulders and shifting his weight back. His hind legs must reach well up underneath his belly in order to carry weight and provide forward impulsion.

Why would a horse offer this kind of controlled energy? Not because you’re kicking him like crazy—your legs would wear out before you could achieve this result consistently. It’s because he’s been trained to be sensitive to your lightest leg cue. It’s as if he’s just waiting for your signal and is eager to respond.

I’m going to show you how to develop self-carriage to improve your horse in this way. You’ll urge him forward at the walk in a way that makes clear over time that what you want is energy, not speed. You can then use this same approach to promote your horse’s self-carriage at the other gaits, as well.


You may be thinking, “But I don’t want my horse to go fast!” Let me be clear: I’m not talking about speed; I’m talking about controlled energy and readiness.

Think of a cutting horse, alert and ready to move whichever way the cow does. Or a tennis player, crouched and waiting for the serve, feet apart, perfectly balanced. Both are in a state of readiness to do whatever’s needed next.

That’s what you want from your horse—readiness to do what you ask of him, whether that be move ahead, turn, stop, whatever. To achieve this state in your horse, you need “not a stronger leg, but a stronger response to the leg”—the words of Philippe Karl, former head of the famous military riding academy École Nationale d’Équitation in western France.

Here’s another way to think of it: like peddling a bike. Before your horse has the readiness of self-carriage, getting and keeping him moving can be like peddling a bike uphill. Exhausting work! When he’s in self-carriage, by contrast, it’s more like coasting a bike on level ground—you only have to peddle lightly now and then because the impulsion is already there.

That’s your goal; now let’s see how to achieve it.

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The photo above shows a horse with zero self-carriage. You’ll recognize this state in your own horse by his lack of energy, the shortness of his stride, and the slack shape of his body. Note how my horse’s topline is flat, his muscles are relatively inactive, and his overall demeanor is sluggish.

Most of all, note how his hind leg fails to reach well up underneath his belly. He’s as much dragging himself along by his front end as he is propelling from behind.

He’s prepared to walk—slowly—but nothing more.
The solution is to do whatever necessary with your legs, seat, hands, and voice to get your horse to push off. Again, what you want is more push, not more speed, but in the beginning it may mean your prompt him to gallop off. The key thing is to release all cues the instant you feel him seriously push forward with his hind end.

With repetition over time, your horse realizes, “Hey, the leg comes off when I change the shape of my body, no matter what speed I’m going at.”

In the photo, note how my horse’s forehand has come up, his hind end has lowered, and his muscles are activated. And get a look at that hind leg! That’s what I mean by push. My horse is almost ready to lope off; that’s the degree of readiness you’re after.

And here’s the result. My horse is still walking, but compare this photo to the first one. Here, his shoulder is raised, his neck is arched, and his hind end is lowered for a lovely round topline. His muscles are working, and his hind legs are pushing hard and reaching well under. Compare that right hind leg in both photos… the difference is dramatic.

In this state of self-carriage, my horse is like that tennis player: poised, balanced, ready. He’s taking responsibility for himself, moving with energy on his own and prepared to respond to my next cue.

A true pleasure to ride!

Journey On,


New Cows

New Cows

You might have noticed at the NRCHA Celebration of Champions this year that it was a little more difficult in the fence work to get a new cow. It has always been a controversial call with many feeling there was no rhyme or reason to who deserved and got a new cow and who didn’t.

My observations at this show were that if you didn’t try to work the cow you got like it was the only one you were going to get AND you were in the right place at the right time to control it, you weren’t going to get the toot-toot for a new cow. The rider also had to be behind a soft, slower cow really trying to drive it to legitimize getting a new one. If the judge felt you could mark a 70 on the one you got, then it was yours.

It is and always has been “the luck of the draw” regarding the fence cattle, but over the course of time we seem to have become more lenient with new cows causing some people to feel that there have been some unfair calls.

This was an attempt to simplify the process and, to the best of my knowledge and observations, there were very few complaints. It also simplifies the judge’s job to decide if a new cow is warranted and frees them up to focus on judging.

I personally think this tightening down is a good move. Back in “the day”, there were no new cows given at all. What you drew was what you worked. Then in trying to make it more fair for everyone, it loosened up. Now I think we might have hit a good compromise that is fair.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this.

Collection by Warwick Schiller

Circles for Credit


Reining circles demonstrate control, willingness to guide and degree of difficulty in speed and speed changes. Circles must at all times be run in the geographical area of the arena specified in the pattern description and must have a common center point. There must be a clearly defined difference in the speed and size of a small, slow circle and a large, fast circle; also the
speed and size of the circles should be the mirror image on the second side of the pattern.

For credit earning circles they must:

Be accurate – meaning the pattern placement must be correct beyond just being mirror images from side to side, but also the slow down should be within the middle three strides (meaning one stride before, one stride dead center and one stride after the center). That goes for the lead change too. And, as if that’s not hard enough the circles should intersect within a few feet
of dead center.

Have degree of difficulty – The speed should be challenged with the big fast being big and fast and the transition to the small slow taking place smoothly with no resistance, within the middle few strides.

Have a smooth lead change – within that box (a stride before center, at center and one stride after), and within the same stride front and back change and again with no resistance.

Usually, a judge scores each circle in their head (for instance big fast + transition to small slow, then small slow + transition to big fast circle, then the big fast circle + lead change). Let’s say the first big fast and transition is +1/2, the small slow isn’t quite accurate for a 0. Then, the next big fast and lead change is a +1/2. That set of circles would be marked +1/2.

The more accurate you are and the higher degree of difficulty you perform them at, the higher your score for that maneuver.

Here are a few tips for credit earning circles:

  1. Have a Plan

It’s very important to pick landmarks out in the arena. Before you show your horse, plan where in the arena you are going to go.
While looking at the arena, pick out four points on each side of the arena you are going to try to hit when showing to ensure you execute the pattern accurately. For instance say to yourself, “when I lope off, I’ve got to go from this point to that banner right there to the back gate over there and then to that banner on the other side.”

You know exactly where you are at, and you’re always looking where you’re going.

  1. Look Up

To maintain the same size circles, you must be aware of the arena while you’re showing.

Remember a rider looking up is the sign of a confident rider. It will make you feel confident as well as show the judge that you are.

It will also help you navigate and hit your marks.

  1. Know Your Horse

Check in with your horse using subtle movements (closing your fingers around the reins or minute bumps on the bridle) to check and make sure your horse is listening to you. The best way to know whether a horse is dialed in or not is if his ear is perking back on you every now and then.

You’ll be surprised what those ears will tell you. Your horse will tell you if he is listening or not.

If you have a horse that is a little on the hot side, don’t challenge your speed too much. Go a medium speed. Keep him where he is comfortable and don’t push it. If you’ve got a horse you know you can run, then go ahead and show him off and ask for more speed.

Everyone has a certain way they like to sit for going fast and slowing down. Do whatever is comfortable for you and that helps your horse respond well.

Judges don’t have a preference. They want to see you show your horse. So, do what works for you. One thing that really helps me is to exhale audibly for my slow down for a few reasons. My horse can hear it, so it’s another subtle cue. It makes my body relax down into my horse (another subtle cue). And, it forces me to breathe and stay calm.

  1. Pick Your Speed

The circles should always start slow and controlled with you checking in with your horse as you move up in speed to be sure they’re listening to you.

However, sometimes when you lope off, you don’t have that feeling. Then you want to back off a little until you feel your horse come back to you and relax. Also, if you have a seasoned horse that anticipates, you’ve got to be able to adapt. If in that right circle, he gets excited and wants to take off, you need to back off a little. Get through that maneuver, and you can go a little faster on the other side.

I think non-pros are better off going a nice medium speed, a speed that they can master and feel comfortable. There’s nothing worse than seeing somebody trying to go 100 miles an hour when they aren’t comfortable with it.

  1. Practice, Practice, Practice

Practice your circles every day. You learn to run circles mostly from feel and practicing. So, you need to practice circles a lot.

Don’t be scared to practice those fast circles.

You can’t run away from any of the maneuvers, including circles. You’ve got to practice all of them.

Excessive Herd Help

Excessive Herd Help

It seems like after every major event, the topic of excessive herd help comes up. It was covered really well in Dec at the NRCHA Judge’s Seminar, so I thought before the Celebration of Champions, I’d recap what is allowed to do without consequence to the exhibitor vs what will result in a reduction of their score.

The herd holder’s duty is to contain the herd giving the cutter the opportunity to demonstrate their horse’s ability to cut a cow cleanly with little or no disturbance to the herd and to drive the cow up out of the herd to the middle of the working area. They then should make sure all the cattle are back in the herd and move to the side where they can control the herd yet not distract from the run.

Any excessive action by the herd holder can result in a reduction of the score for that run. For instance, if the action of the herd holder “saves” the contestant from incurring a major penalty (such as losing a cow or getting a back fence), or the herd holder cuts down the width of the pen, or in fresh cattle, drives the herd out for the cutter, a penalty may be applied.

Here are a few examples of what can and can’t be done without penalty.

  • If the exhibitor is ready to get off, but the cow won’t turn away 1) as the cow approaches the side of the arena and the exhibitor is in position, the herd holder can move up and turn the cow away without penalty. However, if the exhibitor is behind and has lost control, and the herd holder turns the cow away thus saving the exhibitor from losing the cow, a penalty should be applied.
  • If the exhibitor loses control while making a cut and the herd holder prevents the cow from being lost, a penalty should be applied.
  • After the cut has been made, if the herd holder doesn’t move over to the wall causing the cow being worked to be influenced by his presence, a penalty may be applied
  • If the herd holder is sitting in the corner as the cow approaches the corner, the herd holder moves slightly, no penalty. If he comes out of the corner and obviously attempts to stop or turn the cow, the run content should be reduced.

The general rule of thumb is when a major penalty is saved by the action of the herd holder, the judge can deduct up to ½ the value of the penalty that was going to be incurred. So, for a back fence, it would result in a 1.5 point deduction. For a loss, it would be 2.5 points. This is taken over on the far-right side of the judge’s card and is deducted from that particular cow’s score, not subtracted at the end like a back fence or a loss would be.

All that said, the job of the herd holder is to help the exhibitor, and we’d all rather lose 2.5 points instead of 5 points. The key is to stay in the position of control and if you’re not, don’t be surprised if you see an excessive herd help penalty on your card.

See the score card below for clarification: