Q: Is using a twitch cruel?
A: A twitch comes in two forms: a cord loop on the end of a wooden handle and a ‘humane’ metal pinch. Each is tightened either around the horse’s top lip (a nose twitch) or around an ear. A recent study comparing the nose and ear twitches found the twitch around the ear to be more stressful for the horse than the one on the nose, so the currently preferred method is that of a nose twitch.
It is thought that the nose twitch works on acupressure points, so the pressure caused by the twitch causes a flood of endorphins that temporarily ‘dope’ your horse. ‘Temporarily’ is, however, the operative word here. After only a few minutes of use, horses will ‘blow the twitch’, reacting to defend themselves from the emerging pain that occurs after the endorphins have worn off. Therefore, a twitch does have the potential to be cruel if used for long periods, and in any case, is unlikely to cover you for any decent length of time, like the time required to clip a horse.
Instead it is more profitable for you to revisit your horse’s reasons for behaving in a way that requires twitching. A horse who needs a twitch is usually scared for some reason. Sometimes this fear is understandable, and therefore difficult to help your horse with – for instance, a fear of being drenched for colic is not one that is particularly easy to desensitise to.
However, at other times, like with clipping, for example, you may be able to desensitise your horse to the experience and reassociate clipping with something pleasurable, like food. Such retraining generally requires professional support, so don’t be afraid to seek the advice of an equine behaviourist or good force-free trainer.