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What is a Horse Twitch?

By KD Morgan
Updated May 23, 2024
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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.

Sports n' Hobbies is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon317380 — On Feb 01, 2013

@anon168253: Sounds like you need to take some classes and get your horse's respect. You can't be sensitive around horses like that. That is how horses get hurt -- when you take offense to the things they do. They are animals and it is our duty to understand them as such and use alternate methods to help them understand why we do things. Make giving his meds a good experience for him. You only make it worse for him by using pain to administer them.

By anon168253 — On Apr 16, 2011

I'm sorry but if i don't do this to my horse to give him meds and stuff he tries to kill me by rearing up. is that humane of him to try and kill me?

By Renegade — On Feb 14, 2011

The inhumane and disrespectful treatment which animals receive is a testament to a culture in decline. Respecting the position of animals as loyal servants to the human race is an essential part of keeping our own humanity. If we brutalize animals in the same way that animals brutalize animals, then how are we any better than ferocious beasts?

By GigaGold — On Feb 13, 2011

Ever since the horse was tamed in the ancient world, we have been breeding and manipulating it to do our bidding. Without the horse, we never would've gotten to where we are as a society. It is important to recognize and respect these animals as a key part of our society. Even today, with all our cities, we still live off of meat and crops, which are the result of hard animal labor.

By FitzMaurice — On Feb 11, 2011


I think that animals should be treated well, since they are under our charge and are living creatures. If you've every experienced an emotional connection to an animal, you can know how difficult it is to have to put it down. While it is necessary to kill animals for food, it should be done in a respectful manner. Alternatives to pain-inducing methods like the horse twitch should also be sought out.

By Proxy414 — On Feb 10, 2011

This method seems inhumane, but then again, so do most old farming practices. After all, animals aren't human, and perhaps they shouldn't require "humane" treatment. They make great food and have kept us alive and healthy for a long time by submitting to us and dying for us.

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