Twitching horses with sophistication and training

I have watched hundreds of people install a twitch upon horses during my career but I have never seen one use the twitch as a training tool. They just put it on, crank it up and hold it until the job is done. If they alter the pressure at all, it is only ever tighter. Not softer.

We use twitches regularly and I found, that  if used smarter not harder, that it can not only assist in getting the job done but can be a valuable training tool as well.


What prompted me to write this article tonight is a post I saw on a forum which explained that a Vet had injected a foal to brand it. I found that to be way over the top, not fair on the foal, a lost training opportunity and opening the possibility of a reaction to the drug. Not to mention that horses can jump or strike, drugged or not.


The Veterinary Education system in Australia teaches little or no ‘Horsemanship’  If they do at all, they must be doing it badly. It is my opinion that Vet’s drug horses way too quickly and they do it because they are frightened. This is unfair on horses and it is unfair on the bank balance of horse owners. As so many of us are battler’s, it is one more financial pressure that the Industry just doesn’t need. I see too many people chased out of the Industry because of high Vet charges, as it isI have seen horses drugged to the eyeballs, go ‘crackers’ and be highly dangerous. In fact, when they do, they are far more dangerous than an un-drugged horse. As a horseman, I disagree with drugging for most jobs and prefer to improve the training of the horse so that it improves next time and gains more confidence. They do…believe me.


The twitch consists of a loop of string on the end of a stick. You put the loop around the top lip of the horse and twist the handle around until the loop has grabbed tight on the lip causing it to look like a ball with whiskers on it.


This has the effect of  tranquilizing the horse, subduing it and enabling the handler increased control and safety from injury. (although not guaranteed) On the vast number of occasions, this control device does the job.Obviously, the twitch should be used as a last resort and kept for occasions such as helping the horse through treating a wound or some other injury, dispensing medication, worming or clipping. (I don’t include clipping in the helping the horse. )


I have found that the twitch can be used exactly the same as any other training aid by employing ‘Advance and Retreat’ or ‘Reward & Relief’. Just as in NH or any other type of training.

Firstly, I only ever twitch up as tight as is required to stop the original evasion or misbehavior of the horse. Then I experiment down the scale of tightness of the twitch, to see how low I can go without there being a possibility of the horse flicking it off. If the horse behaves, I will leave it soft, if it goes to fight I will suddenly tighten a little as a threat, then actually tighten a bit if it doesn’t listen or even fully tighten back to the original point if it doesn’t co-operate. I will play around, up and down the scale during the entire period of time that the other handler is doing their job, like clipping.

Imagine the injustice of twitching a horse fully up the scale on commencement of clipping which is going to take 90 minutes and leaving it at that level of pain. (and don’t tell me there wouldn’t be any pain when twitched up tight.)

Over the years, this system has been a very important training tool for those horses that were heading to the Abattoir’s, having spent all their chances with lot’s of owners. The real tough horses.

One of those horses is owned by my wife and is about to go to the Olympic Dressage Level. He was a completely lost cause after earlier being very valuable. Another, is hopefully heading towards selection for the Australian  Eventing Team for Barcelona. He too was on his way to an early death. Some horses need the twitch. I understand the heart of the softer owner’s who never want a twitch near their horse, that is my aim too but I rest easy when just that little bit extra can be responsible for saving the life of a potentially lovely and mis-understood horse like most of the ones that I meet.

Here is another method, sent in by a reader and I admit that I forgot about it

“I am enjoying your website IMMENSELY. I just wanted to ask if you had tried the method of twitching which I prefer. I have used this method on racehorses and have found them to be very responsive. I am trying to remember a time when a horse was negatively impacted but really can’t.
When a horse is misbehaving during an injection or shoeing, and more commonly when having their feet painted, I press my fingers into the neck, just in front of the upper shoulder. Pushing my fingers toward the head, I roll a fold of skin back into the palm of my hand, holding it in place with my thumb. Basically a fistful of neck skin.
The horse may turn their head in a flinching manner, but they do stand calmly, without pain around the head area. This method is also an immediate action, without the horse thinking he has got away with something whilst someone digs out a twitch. I agree wholeheartedly about NEVER twitching ears.”

So next time you have the Vet, ask if you can twitch the horse first. If you do, try what I have explained. It will make you feel better and for sure, the horse.

I am listening….are You??