Professional sports are rife with superstition. In major league sports, individual players have rituals such as not shaving during NHL playoffs, or Michael Jordan wearing his college shorts under his NBA shorts, baseball players using the same bat, and so on. The horse world, one of the oldest sports in history, is no slouch in the superstition and myth department. Many so-called “facts” have lingered for hundreds of years, passed down through the generations. But are any of these outlandish ideas true? We’ve taken five of the most common equine myths and done the research to bust or prove them for you! Enjoy!

1. Myth: White hooves are softer and have weaker hoof walls.

The myth goes further, suggesting the more white hooves/white socks a horse has, the less sound it will be. There’s even a poem:

One white foot, buy him
Two white feet, try him
Three white feet, doubt him
Four white feet, do without him

Fact or Fiction?

Fiction! According to studies there is absolutely no truth to this. John Burt, who operates a farrier school and is a tester for the Brotherhood of Working Farriers Association, states, “There is no quality difference on the same horse, no scientific date to sustain any difference. The white and black hoof are both designed the same structurally; the texture and quality of the hoof is the same.”

So, if you want a horse with four white socks and all the chrome and flash that gives you, don’t second guess your choice!

2. Myth: Chestnut mare, beware!

Need we say more? The notion that a fiery mane equals a fiery temperament extends to the human species as well, where women with red hair were once burned at the stake for being witches. To this day there are horse people out there who avoid owning a chestnut mare at all costs.

Fact or Fiction?

Let’s say the evidence is purely anecdotal, but legions of riders are convinced this is true. While there aren’t any studies exploring the issue of “crazy chestnut mares” there is a study out of the University of Sydney in Australia that found chestnut horses of any gender are bolder than bay horses. “Chestnut horses were more likely to approach objects and animals in their environment, regardless of their familiarity,” the study’s authors wrote. “This suggests that selection for the chestnut phenotype in horses may have inadvertently involved selection for boldness and altered the way horses interact with their surroundings.” Perhaps this boldness when coupled with a hormonal mare is what keeps driving this myth.

3. Myth: You can tell a horse’s temperament by the whorl on its head.

Fact or Fiction?

This may surprise you, but it’s a fact! This method of evaluating a horse’s temperament and therefore its trainability is thought to have begun with the Bedouins in Arabia and European Gypsies. Trainers throughout history have recorded their findings. The theory gained a broader acceptance through the work of famous horsewoman Linda Tellington-Jones. A study she conducted in the 1960s found;

• a single swirl in the center of the forehead indicated an uncomplicated nature;
• a single swirl centered below the level of the eyes indicated an intelligent, possibly mischievous nature;
• a single, long swirl between or extending below the eyes indicated an especially friendly, agreeable nature
• two or more swirls generally indicated a more complicated personality in some way. (Her book Getting In Touch: Understand and Influence Your Horse’s Personality, is available on Amazon)

In another more recent study, this one in cattle, a high whorl was found to denote a “high-strung” nature.

As to the reason why there’s any correlation at all? This same study suggested that, “The nervous system and the skin, which contains the whorl patterns, come from the same embryonic layer… This may explain the apparent relationships between body traits and temperament.” (See also “Swirlology”: Can facial whorls dictate personality and ‘handedness’?)

4. Myth: A horse is worth $100 every time it can roll all the way over.

Fact or Fiction?

While the monetary part of the myth is funny, especially with the high cost of horses these days, there is some validity on the part of a horse’s rolling habits and its health.

The thinking was that if a horse was able to roll all the way over, it demonstrates healthy joints and a lack of pain. “From over 25 years of experience, I definitely agree that the way a horse uses his body to roll will tell you if the muscles, nerves, and joints in his back and hindquarters are strong and healthy,” wrote equine massage therapist, acupuncturist and alternative horse health provider Diane Thompson. “This movement also lets you know if a horse’s hip, stifle, hock, and fetlock joints are as flexible as they should be, it can even help you to assess a horse’s mental state…. If his back is healthy and he can freely stretch his spine, roll back and forth enthusiastically, then stand up in one strong, smooth motion.” Thompson adds that a horse with a high wither however, is physically unable to complete the full roll-over and will tend instead to have a good roll on one side, get up, and immediately go down on the other.

5. Myth: It’s Bad Luck to Change Your Horse’s Name

Fact or Fiction?

We weren’t able to find out exactly where this myth came from, and we also weren’t able to find any scientific evidence to suggest changing a horse’s name from Perfect Jumper to Knock Down would have any effect in the ring. This myth is indeed pure superstition.

Let’s be honest, there are loads of OTTBs and QHs out there with names that are either silly, tacky or just boring. European Sport Horses are often stuck with a certain initial in a given year, or the initial of their sire (or just a crazy long name), which can be limiting, to say the least. We want our horse’s name to suit its personality and often we are saddled with (pun intended) a zinger of a barn name from a previous owner that might not have been an original name anyway.

Suffice to say that changing a registered name, which many choose as the show name, can be complicated depending on the registry and organization, but feel free and confident to change your horse’s barn name to whatever suits the animal.