The Science of Nose and Ear Twitching for Horses

Last Updated on March 11, 2022 by Allison Price

  • This article will not create controversy. It is meant to explain the reasons why a twitch can be used and which types of twitches should be used. When done correctly, it’s not an abuse. Sometimes a twitch can keep horses safer than a non-twitch.
  • PS – I also have some science to share on this topic.

What is a twitch?

  • A twitch can be described as a mechanical method of subduing your horse. There are many techniques to subdue your horse, including ear twitch and nose twitch.

The nose twitches.

  • A section of rope about 10 inches in length is used to make the nose twitch. It is looped and tied to an extended pole. If possible, the rope should be long and flexible. Your hand holds the horse’s upper lip while the loop moves over his lips. To tighten the rope around the horse’s lips, twist the long pole.
Nose and Ear Twitching
  • Some people use a cursory twitch. This can be a loop of baling twine or a double-ended snap. The twine is wrapped around the horse’s upper lips. Thin twine can cause skin to peel. This would be used only in emergency situations where no other options are available.
  • This type of twitch is dangerous and can’t be safely removed. This type of twitch can be used in extreme situations.

Standard lip or nose twitch.

The ear twitch.

  • A particularly cruel way to subdue a horse is the ear twitch. The ear is basically twisted and pulled. This experience can lead to horses becoming head shy and even sour. There is preliminary science that supports the terrible nature of twitching.

The skin twitch

  • Horses that are hesitant about having injections in their necks can often benefit from the skin twitch or shoulder roll. It is possible to grab a particular spot on the neck of your horse, close to the shoulder, and gently roll that area.

This is the best way to prevent skin twitching and nosebleeds. Do not watch a video or follow the steps. Instead, get hands-on training.

What is the secret to twitches?

  • This question can be answered in broad strokes by saying that twitches produce endorphins, natural drugs that give you a feeling of well-being. Imagine “runner’s high” but for horses.
  • It’s more complicated. The horse’s body takes three to five minutes to increase endorphins after a twitch has been applied. Some horses might become agitated or tickled during this period.
  • Horses might begin to relax and “check out” as the endorphins kick in. The horse may experience a glazed look on the eyes and a drop in the level of the lower and upper lip.
  • Endorphins last only for 10 minutes. You may get a very stubborn horse if he or she decides to “check in” during the twitch.

What time would you twitch your horse?

  • Veterinary procedures often include the use of twitches. A common reason horses need to be sedated is when they are unable to remain still for more than a few minutes. Your horse cannot be sedated if he is undergoing a lameness examination. However, your horse may need to be sedated during the exam. A nerve block or a twitch might be necessary. The nerve block procedure is more painful than a traditional injection so it’s important to get the vet right. Because the nerve block induces euphoria, the twitch is less painful and safer than traditional injections.
  • Sometimes, a horse might twitch in an emergency. A twitch can be used to help horses who are injured or unable to stand still for pain relief and sedation. When a horse is in panic, pain or thrashing, it is very dangerous and risky. Twitching is a good way to get it done.
  • Twitching allows your horse to be relaxed and chilled during a brief window. Yes, relaxed. However, only with non-ear twitches. Let’s get into that section now.

This is one kind of lip or nose twitch. These are not recommended unless you’re in a very dire situation. Ideal twine and string should be thicker and more flexible.

There is some science behind the use twitches.

  • Twelve horses were examined using an ear twitch, and a lips twitch, a few years back. Although this sample is small, we know that many researchers who work with horses struggle to find large numbers of horses to study. This is what we know so far.
  • We know that stress can be measured by heart rate (HR), variability in heart rate (HRV), or cortisol levels. Cortisol can either be measured from blood, or, in this instance, from saliva. Stress is indicated by higher levels of HR or cortisol.
  • HRV looks at the time differences between each heartbeat. Horses are more likely to respond to stress by going into “fight or flight” mode. This may have happened to you during a spook. This time, the HRV is low. Higher HRV will be achieved by a more relaxed horse.
  • Okay, back to the study. Some horses twitched on their lips. The HR and cortisol levels fell, while the HRV levels rose. They were happy!
  • However, when the lip twitch is used for longer than five minutes HR levels rise and HRV levels drop, which indicates stress.
  • The opposite effect was produced by the ear twitch applied to the horses. The horses did not show relaxation and the saliva and heart rate measurements support that assertion. Some horses still struggled with their ears being tended to weeks later. The moral of the story: There is zippo relaxation with an ears twitch.

Here are some helpful tips about twitches.

  • Before you try a twitch, make sure your vet has trained you. This is something I cannot stress enough.
  • Never use an ear twitch.
  • Some horses won’t accept a twitch. Do not keep fighting for it.
  • Never cross your legs while twitching. Many horses kick and strike before or after the endorphins. You don’t have to get a temporary tattoo in black or blue. Or worse.
  • Only use twitches in veterinary situations when your horse requires relaxation for a few moments. Twitches should not be used as a training tool.
  • The twitch should be removed before the endorphins wear down. This five-minute window is common for horses.
Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!