A horse twitch is a device used as an alternative to a sedative to keep your horse quiet while you work on him. Twitches are used for a variety of situations, including first aid treatments, sheath cleanings, clippings, small medical procedures and exams.
There are two basic styles of horse twitches. One is a braided, metal or rope chain with a wooden handle. The second is considered a humane twitch, which looks like a large pair of pliers or a nutcracker with a long handle.
The horse twitch is attached to the soft, sensitive upper lip. As a result of the intense pain the twitch initially creates, the brain releases a surge of endorphins that act as natural pain killers and puts your horse in a euphoric state. Many also believe the distraction alone will keep your horse adequately occupied and that in itself will inspire him to stand quietly while you accomplish your task.
During a medical emergency, you may not have the option or desire for sedatives so a horse twitch is considered a good alternative. Since around the year 2000, the veterinary and research communities have come to realize that horse twitches should no longer be the preference. Some horses do not object as openly to their use but we now know that they all experience the initial assault.
The use of a horse twitch can also cause your horse to become head shy. This insecurity can translate to a variety of training issues, including those under saddle as well as on the ground. In addition, if used in conjunction with a sedative, too many endorphins can be released and your horse can have an adverse reaction.
It is common knowledge that the horse's lips are extremely sensitive and this is the reason the horse twitch was devised to begin with. An alternative solution is to massage the lip area and the gums above the upper row of teeth. Another option is to massage the tips of his ears. These three sites will release the same endorphins as a horse twitch and will calm your horse without the unpleasantness.
It is highly recommended to desensitize your horse as part of his ground training. By familiarizing your horse with a wide variety of exposures before any medical emergency or crisis arises, he will be in a position of trust and stand quietly on his own.
Horse twitches have been improved in modern times and if it is a medical emergency, all will agree to its necessity. But the general consensus has become that good training is the preferred choice.