Twitching is one way you can restrain your horse when you need to do something to him he may not enjoy. Whether you are clipping his ears or having the vet out to do blood work, there are some times when you are going to have to convince your horse, who is much bigger and stronger than you, that he needs to stand still and behave. Twitching is safer than chemical sedation, and in many cases can be just as effective.
When you twitch a horse, you apply pressure to his nose. There are commercially available twitches that make this easy to do. Basically, the twitch is made of a soft piece of cord attached to a handle or two metal tubes that squeeze together. You grasp the end of your horse's nose, below the nostrils, in the twitch, and squeeze it firmly. This pressure releases endorphins into the bloodstream which calm the horse and increase his tolerance for whatever is going on around him.
When you twitch your horse, you will likely notice a change in his behavior. His eyelids may droop, his head may relax, and he may become unwilling to move. A horse who is twitched has a lower heart rate while in pain than a horse who is not twitched. All of this means that your horse is likely to be much more tolerant of whatever procedure you are performing. Once you release the twitch, his behavior will return to normal.
Horses are big animals, and if they don't want to go along with a veterinary exam or farrier visit, they can create a danger to everyone working around them as well as to themselves. Some methods of restraint, such as holding up one leg, put the handler at risk and are not always effective. Other methods of restraint, such as chemical sedatives add unnecessary health risks and expense to routine procedures. Using a twitch allows you to calm your horse with no risk or expense. Not all horses calm down in response to the twitch, however, you can simply remove the twitch and try something else if it doesn't work, there are no ill effects of trying it unsuccessfully.
The main concern with using the twitch is that you don't use it for an extended period of time. Apply the twitch right before the procedure your horse is undergoing and remove it as soon as you are done. You can also take a break, removing the twitch and walking your horse around for a few minutes to regroup if the procedure is going longer than anticipated. Never let go of the twitch while it is connected to your horse. It is best to have one handler hold the horse and another handle the twitch.
- Care and Management of Horses: Heather Smith Thomas
- University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School: Compliance with Twitch Restraint in Horses
- Equine Vet Clinic: Guidance on the Safe Handling and Restraint of Horses