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Above is a typical example of horse hair growth, directly traced from my horse Chinook. While an individual horse's hair pattern will be unique with varying whorls, they will all follow the same general pattern. Overall, a horse's coat is meant to shed water away from his body - most of the hairs will angle at least slightly down, allowing water to drip away like rain on shingles. This overall idea is useful to keep in mind when thinking about hair direction. It's especially helpful when painting the horse's barrel, a place where artists tend to paint hairs pointing horizontally. Here are some more spots to pay extra attention to:


1: I hope to add more views soon, but for now envision hairs that run down the front of the face only in the very middle - the rest of the hairs start flowing gently from the centerline to the sides and down, causing drops to run off the jaw and chin hairs rather than routing water from the entire head onto the sensitive nose and mouth.


2: Note how the hair from the forehead whorl (or whorls) causes the hair over the eye to wrap around and again move water away from a critical area.


3: This is a complicated area where some hairs are running forward to the ears, down to the throatlatch, along the side of the neck, and up over the mane, causing a spot at the poll behind the ear where the hairs all switch direction. 

4: This is an area that has a lot of uniqueness, but there is often a whorl or feathered ridge here. This is a great spot to look at multiple references to get a good feel for what happens at the throatlatch.

5: As the hair at the bottom of the neck reaches the centerline from both sides, some interesting zig-zaggy hair ridges can form.

6: Along the crest the hair will dramatically switch direction from the rest of the neck and flip upwards. These hairs begin to blend into the mane, and on colors with a lot of contrast between the body and points - like a light buckskin - they create that soft edge frosting of light hairs against dark.

7: This is another complicated section of hairs that varies from horse to horse, where the large chest whorls meet up with the downward flowing hair of the shoulder. This section also squishes around a lot as the leg moves, so references here are very handy!

8: It can be tempting to paint hairs on the legs pointing straight down, but there is actually a tilt back, where the hair wraps around the front and meets behind the leg, just like on the face. As the hair passes over the pastern, it starts fanning out to cover the edges of the top of the hoof like an umbrella. It's another tricky area where references can help, especially around the heel bulbs.

9: Right behind the elbow is where the hair from the chest rises up and meets the hair coming down from the barrel. There is an interesting triangular fan on top of this ridge as hairs travel behind the elbow or back to the belly. This is another area that stretches a lot and will be either very noticeable on an extended leg, or completely hidden on a leg moving back.

10: The big one! Most people are familiar with the flank whorl, but it can be confusing figuring out where to make it "start" and end. The main features are:


11: The upper area of the flank whorl forms a ridge where the hairs moving up the flank meet the hairs coming down off the back around the top of the hip. Notice that the hair on the back here is actually pointing straight to the side, heading downwards over the hip, and not pointing back to the tail - this is a common mistake!

12: The whorl typically starts somewhere above the stifle, though this point of origin can move around quite a bit. It is from this little spot that the large whorl branches off and spreads up and over the entire flank. Notice that like other circular whorls, it has hairs that point down and flow around the little piece of skin at the stifle. The hair on the other side - inside the thigh - also fans down here, and the hairs will meet at the edge of the ridge of skin and mingle like they do at the underside of the neck.

13: There are some unpictured whorls on the horse's belly that create a swirling section of hair which meets up with the front edge of the flank whorl and causes another area of unique hair flow. 

14: The hair is fairly turbulent around a horse's chestnuts, wrapping around in some places, and turning towards the chestnut and poofing out in others. This is another good area to look out for little whorls of varying shapes!

More Tips


  • Look at lots of real horse photos, especially in movement to see how the pattern stretches, or how the hairs crumple along wrinkles.

  • If you can get your hands on a real horse, follow along, paying extra attention to the subtle shifts in direction, how whorls flow out from a center, and how ridges or tufts of hair form from two or more directions meeting up.

  • Take your time painting individual hairs - rushing makes them out of scale and sloppy!

  • To achieve a more realistic effect, try layering different shades of hairs over one another. The layers will help break up lines that are too long, and the different shades or colors will provide a rich depth to the paint job.

  • It is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture when working on very tiny details - it is helpful to use a colored pencil and very lightly draw long border lines where you want the edges of whorls and along the general hair growth direction. That way, when you are painting tiny hairs, you can follow the roadmap and avoid the pain of redoing a spot that took hours!

  • Starting the hair detailing from a whorl results in a more natural, flowy look rather than painting a large area of straight hairs and trying to force the whorl into the remaining space.

  • Skip around! If you're working on the shoulder, do some hairs at the top, then move to the elbow, fill in spots in between and continue in this fashion to help keep your eye fresh and the hairs looking like they flow together.

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