Equine | 22ND FEBRUARY 2021

Should You Twitch Your Horse?

Twitching is a form of restraint used instead of sedation and is often debated about as people question whether it is a cruel method to use. It is often used when a horse becomes aggressive, such as when they are afraid of being clipped.

You should only look to use the method as a last resort, such as when you or others are put in danger by your horse as they are big animals and being kicked is not fun! It is commonly used by vets when a horse is undergoing surgery but yet cannot be sedated. If you look to twitch whilst they are being clipped, again, use it as a last resort once you have tried all the other methods. Read our blog on clipping nervous horses here which will explain these.

What is a twitch?

To twitch, people have often applied a large amount of pressure to their horse's lip or ear by using their hands, but others use a device called a ‘twitch’ which is made up of a stick-like handle loop of chain or rope on the end, or a metal ring with a rope loop. This is usually wrapped around their upper lip or ear.

Should You Twitch? 

People use the lip twitch method as it has been shown to decrease a horse’s heart rate in the presence of painful stimuli. It is thought to release beta-endorphins, that subdue the horses into an analgesic mechanism. It is a short term method of sedation, as these effects only last up to 5 minutes, and after that their heart rate will actually increase.

On the other hand, ear twitching is seen to be far worse for your horse, and because of this should be greatly avoided. Ear twitching actually evokes a reaction of fear stimuli, but your horse will remain still, giving you the impression that it works the same as a lip twitch. An ear twitch will actually damage their delicate ear cartilage.

Recently, more research has been done on twitching and has shown twitching to have a negative effect on horse welfare, with it eliciting a fight/flight response as it replicates the way a predator would grab them in the wild - Rørvang, M., Nielsen, B. and McLean, A., 2020. Sensory Abilities of Horses and Their Importance for Equitation Science. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 7

To conclude, if you have a clipper-shy horse, there are definitely ways you can desensitise your horse to clippers, get them used to the feel of the clippers, the sound they make and only use twitching if you have no other options.

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