Twitching: More Than Just Rope on a Stick

I've got a little job going this winter clipping a few other people's horses. It's handy enough ... it's one of those jobs that I really look forward to, then absolutely hate while doing it ... then love again once the horse is clipped and looking lovely!

I've done alot full head clips this year as I think it just looks better with a full clip. I find if they are getting bored or jumpy to give them a small break and a little bit of hay and feed and they are usually happy to let you continue :) I do, however, always have a twitch on standby. I nearly always use it when clipping around their eyes and ears more so for safety reasons. I would hate for a horse to move and for it to get clipped in the eye ... Ouuucccchhh!

There are one or two horses that just can't be twitched and thus get a half head. They just explode as soon as the twitch is tightened and rear and strike out ... and then you have others who absolutely love it and go nice and dopey. This kinda got me thinking to to why it works for some horses and has no effect on others?

What is a twitch?
A twitch is a device that is used to control and restrain horses in stressful situations. There are two common types,  a stick like handle (often off a broom etc) with a loop of rope on the end or a "humane" twitch which squeezes the lip in a nutcracker motion.

How is it applied?
The upper lip of the horse is held and the rope loop is placed around it. Then the handle of the twitch is twisted until the loop tightens. This method has the disadvantage in that is requires a handler to hold the twitch. The "humane" twitch is placed on the lip and it squeezes either side, this method does not require and additional handler as it can tie on to itself.

How does it work?
The twitch works in three steps:

Firstly it works by providing a minor physical restraint and stops the head from moving around.
Secondly it provides some discomfort, especially when first applied. This discomfort is thought to distract the horse from pain or irritation elsewhere.

When a twitch is first applied, the horse will experience the physical restraint and slightly painful distraction. Some people tend to put a twitch on and rush through a procedure and get the twitch off as quickly as possible. If it is only left on for a short amount of time then all the horse will have experienced is minor pain ... not what you want your horse to remember! You need to keep it on a little longer for your horse to experience that nice 'high' feeling! :)

And finally the endorphins are released after 3 - 5 minutes of having the twitch in place. These are chemicals produced by the body that are naturally pain killing. This only lasts about 10 - 15 minutes so after this time it's good to give the horse a break and start again :)

The twitch should be thought of like a sedative or a pain killer, in that it takes time to work. Waiting for the natural pain killing properties of the endorphins to work and getting the job finished while the twitch is still effective are the most important concepts in using the twitch effectively.

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