Safe Twitching Part 1 of a three-part series on restraint

There are three basic types of restraint that can be effective during an emergency: location restraint, physical restraint and chemical restraint.  Colorado veterinarian Ruth Sorensen discusses different techniques of twitching, a form of physical restraint that can help control your horse as you address an emergency.

In part two, Sorensen explains how to properly apply three different types of hobbles. Our series on emergency restraint techniques concludes with an article on different types of location restraint, chemical restraint, and special techniques to restrain a foal, mule or donkey.

Safe Twitching
A neck twitch is one of the easiest types of twitches, as it requires no equipment. To apply a neck twitch, use both hands to firmly grasp a handful of skin in front of the slope of the shoulder. Then, keeping your grip firm, roll the skin forward. It can take a few minutes for this twitch to "take," so be patient and "work the twitch" as you hold it by pulsing your grip and gently massaging the fold.

There are two areas on a horse that can be effectively and humanely twitched—the neck and the nose. Vulnerable anatomy, such as ears, joints or genitals should never be used for restraint. Besides being illegal in some states, ear twitches can cause permanent damage and may actually provoke aggression in some horses.

There are a few situations in which a twitch should not be used. These include if a horse is:

Thrashing. To ensure the safety of the horse and the handler, a horse that is thrashing (as is often the case with a bad colic) should not be twitched or restrained with any other technique.

Hurt in the area to be twitched. This may sound obvious, but it still deserves to be noted. Do not apply a twitch to an injured area, such as a sunburned muzzle or a shoulder suffering from a laceration.

Acting up. Twitching should be used only in an emergency, and only to restrain a horse long enough to prevent further injury as the situation is being handled. Twitching should never be used as a form of discipline.

Nose twitches can be applied by hand or with a piece of equipment.
To apply a nose twitch by hand, grasp the “meaty” part of the upper lip under the nostrils, and while keeping a firm grip, twist your hand. As you hold this twitch, pulse your hand and gently massage the lip with your fingers.

As for twitching equipment, there are three basic types of nose twitches:

Humane twitches. These metal clamps hinge at one end to squeeze the upper lip, and fasten at the opposite end with a snap. Though called humane twitches, Sorensen says they can end up causing injury by pinching or slipping loose.

Rope-end twitches. These twitches are comprised of a long stick with a rope loop at one end. The loop is applied to the upper lip and twisted tight. As with the humane twitch, these can also have a problem with slipping.

Chain-end twitches. These twitches are the same as a rope-end twitch, but instead of a rope loop, they have a chain loop, which provides more grip.

Whatever type of twitch you use, it’s important to stay active and aware when twitching a horse. If using your hands, “work the twitch” by pulsing your hands and massaging the area; if using a piece of equipment, gently and slowly roll the handle over and back, being careful not to loosen the twitch.

Note that a humane twitch is harder to “work” as the handle is shorter, and the twitch can slip off the nose easily. In such a case, you may have to just clip the twitch closed. The handler twitching a horse should be in constant communication with the caregiver, and should release the twitch only when the caregiver gives the OK.

Though twitches can be quite effective if done properly, any twitch can cause damage if not executed properly. You need to practice so that when the time comes to employ one, you’re prepared to do so. If you’re unsure how to safely and effectively twitch your horse, contact your vet or an experienced horseman to show you the proper technique.

This article is part of series on equine first-aid, based on an equine first-aid certification course designed and taught by Colorado veterinarian and equine educator Ruth Sorensen, DVM. Learn more about her classes on the Web at

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