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The effect of Nose Twitching

April 18, 2017

How does nose twitching affect a horse?

I found this article recently and had to share. I’ve had some experiences recently with people using a twitch and enjoyed this article to learn more about the theory behind it. 

Before clipping a horse’s ears or giving a horse an injection, some horse owners use a nose twitch without giving it a second thought. Other equestrians find this restraining method controversial and harmful to the horse’s well being.

To better determine how nose twitching influences horses, Ahmed Ali, BVSc, MS, of Michigan State University (MSU) department of Animal Sciences, compared horse’s heart rate with and without twitch application. The results were presented by Carnie Heleski, Phd, animal behaviour and wellfare instructor at MSU at the 11th annual International Society of Equitation Science conference in Vancouver, Brittish Columbia.

In their study, the team performed an aversive procedure, clipping the hair on the inside of a horse’s ear, in eight Arabian horses that had never had their ears clipped before. The horses were randomly assigned to be clipped with or without the use of a nose twitch, followed by an alternative ear clipping while being twitched. The team recorded the horses behaviours, heart rate, heart rate variability and the time it took to clip the horse’s ears.

The untwitched horses had the highest heart rates and lowest heart rate variability, which are both signs of stress. They also showed the most behavioural indications of aversion such as shaking their heads and took the longest time to be clipped compared to the twitched horses. The twitched horses actually displayed the least behavioural issues and reduced heart rates, indicating less distress. Upon the second exposure to the twitch some horses even recorded near baseline measurements.

“You would assume if the twitch was painful, they’d be aversed to it the second time, but heart rate and reactions actually decreased” said Heleski. Based on previous study results, twitching probably resembles acupuncture and has a pain relieving effect, the authors said. “We believe that nose twitching, when properly applied, should be considered a viable, humane restraint for shors usage situations” they concluded. Only warning; the results are not intended to encourage twitch use in place of proper training.

Bit Magazine - translated by EUR Equestrian

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