Twitching a Horse
 By Winniefield Park   •   18th Nov 2014   •   6,368 views   •   2 comments

Twitching a horse is a common practice when it’s important that the horse be absolutely still for something like hoof trimming, vaccinations, mane pulling and doctoring minor wounds. It’s often used instead of an injected tranquilizer to prevent a horse from struggling for a brief procedure.

Horses can be twitched a few different ways. Skin twitching is simply grabbing a handful of loose skin on the neck and twisting it slightly. Ear twitching involves either squeezing and twisting an ear slightly with your hand, or using a device that will do the same. The same device, or your hand can be used to apply a nose twitch, when the skin below the nostrils is gathered and squeezed.

Twitches come in different varieties. A rope twitch is a loop of heavy rope attached to the end of a wooden handle about two feet long. A chain twitch is similar, but uses a loop of chain instead of rope. A humane twitch is somewhat like a thick set of tweezers or pincers made of light metal. A handler needs to hold onto the rope and chain twitch in order for it to remain in place, but the humane twitche can be clamped closed so that it doesn’t have to be held. Another type of twitch looks like a large square belt buckle, with a thumbscrew that tightens it up.

We don’t really know why and how twitches work. It’s commonly thought that the pain experienced by the horse while twitched causes the body to release endorphins which in turn cause the horse to calm down. Studies have demonstrated that when a twitch is applied, the endorphins are released. But, endorphins are often released during any time of stress or pain and the horse’s reactions, even though their brain is flooded with this calming hormone, can be quite the opposite of calm.

Some people believe the nose twitch in particular activates an acupuncture point on the horse’s nose that calms the horse, again through the release of endorphins. Another theory is that the twitch acts as a distraction. The pain inflicted by the twitch distracts the horse from whatever procedure it would normally object to.

Yet another theory is that the twitch activates a horse’s freeze response - something called tonic immobility. When a horse gets into a situation where it can’t flee or fight, it freezes. This is a basic instinct that tells it to stand still so a predator’s eyes, which are more attuned to a moving than a still object, will not see it. The pain of the twitch may send the horse into this freeze response, that not only makes it immobile, but more insensitive to pain.

Twitching doesn’t work for very long. On some horses, especially those that know to be afraid of the twitch, it won’t work at all. Some horses get very dopey once twitched, but once a horse is twitched, the calm state will only last about ten to fifteen minutes. If the twitch is removed before the endorphin flow stops, all should be well. But exceed the time, and the horse may ‘blow the twitch’, reacting violently. You must learn to use a twitch properly, if at all, because there’s still potential for horse and human injury when one is used.

So what do you think of twitching? What theory sounds most plausible to you? And is it cruel, or a useful tool?

Horse News More In This Category:  General      Horse News More From This Author:  Winniefield Park
Valkyrie  MOD 
I work with TB yearlings who can be very dangerous when frightened, so it's common practise for us to "grab some skin" if we're struggling to control one of them. We grab a handful of loose skin just in front of the shoulder and roll it and squeeze. It's not 100% effective but works well enough to get the rug on a scared horse, or get the bridle on a headshy one etc.

Lip twitching is a last resort. We'd rather use the skin, and even that is only if we are having a hard time controlling them. We'd rather teach them to behave without needing to grab skin or use a twitch. But sometimes it's necessary.
  Nov 19, 2014  •  6,877 views
We twitch our minis to clip them in some parts. They all have been 100% handled everywhere but really hate it, especially ears, have never met a horse who likes it.
I would rather twitch and know they're standing calmly than risk injury, any day. I would also rather twitch than sedate, it's alot safer.
  Nov 19, 2014  •  6,858 views
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