Regardless of how “sweet” a horse may be, there will be times when that horse must be restrained. Any time a horse objects to a procedure to the extent that safety of the horse or the people working with him is compromised that animal must be restrained.
While training and behavior modification should always be your first routes, there are times when these methods will not work or can’t work quickly enough.
Choose the least aggressive form of restraint that permits completion of the task safely. Chemical restraint (tranquilizer) will always work, but some instances prohibit the use of tranquilizers, such as endoscopic examinations or prior to a competition, and it’s sometimes not practical.
Calming an excited horse starts with trying to get the head down, and one hand on the bridge of the nose with the other applying pressure just behind the poll can help lower the head and increase control.
Gently rocking the head side to side or tapping the forehead can divert the horse’s attention away from whatever procedure is being performed.
Grasping a fold of skin on the horse’s shoulder with your hand, called a shoulder-hold, can usually provide adequate distraction.
Cupping an eye with one hand can “blind” the horse on one side, enabling a helper to put a measuring stick on a yearling or perform a similar quick-and-easy task.
Holding one front foot up can make it difficult for a horse to kick or move. This works well for procedures that require one foot stay down or that the horse not move, such as when you apply hoof black.
We don’t recommend ear twisting or ear twitching, which can contribute to head shyness and can injure the horse.
A chain shank over the nose can be effective basic control for an experienced handler. Pass the chain from left to right through the side halter ring, over the bridge of the nose, through the right halter ring, and snap the end up on the cheek ring. This uses the entire length of chain, so the handler is not gripping chain to keep a short hold. This is our preferred method of using a chain shank.
Other variations in the use of a chain shank include:
Under the jaw (helps keep the head up)
Wound around the halter noseband (for lighter control of a sensitive horse)
Through the mouth (not for routine use; works well with stallions)
Over the upper gum(not recommended; too painful and gums can bleed easily).
A chain extension can be added to any regular lead shank, if you don’t have a proper chain shank (avoid too-short chains that won’t allow you to run it up the side of the halter). We don’t use a chain shank for everyday leading, as we see a tendency for improper use because the chain is uncomfortable to hold. The chain should never be run through a halter ring and snapped back on itself, making a loop that a horse could put a foot through. It should be snapped directly onto the halter ring or used properly over the nose.
The twitch is the “old-reliable” restraint device, and no well-equipped barn should be without one. We recommend a four-foot hickory handled rope twitch. It’s lightweight and strong, with a short loop of soft cotton rope.
Twitches come in several variations: rope, chain, humane, and padded clamps. All can be used effectively, depending on the circumstances.
The twitch does more than distract the horse and decrease perception of pain or danger. Veterinary research has shown that the twitch causes the release of endorphins. It’s a concept similar to acupuncture. The result can be a dramatic trance-like state, extremely useful for some instances, but ineffective for others or for long procedures.
The horse is seemingly rooted to the ground while under the effects of the twitch, so it is not a good tool for loading an uncooperative horse onto the van. The twitch is likewise not a good tool for training a bad actor to hold a foot up for the farrier.
But for braiding, medicating or any instance where you want the horse perfectly still, the twitch can work wonders for a short time.
To apply the twitch, take the horse off cross-ties and go in a stall if the task can be performed there. The handler reaches through the rope end with his fingers and takes a firm lateral hold on the horse’s upper lip. (Do not slip the rope end over your wrist.) The rope is then slipped over the fingers onto the lip and the handle is twisted or closed.
The handler holds the end of the twitch and the lead shank, applying increased pressure by twisting as needed. Rope and chain twitches require two people, one to hold the twitch and the horse while the other performs the task. We prefer the long-handled twitch because it is safer for the handler, as he can stand well away from a swinging head or flying front feet.
For a simple task such as mane pulling or braiding, a humane twitch can do the job with only one person because it can be applied and snapped onto the halter.
Minimize the time a horse wears the twitch (10 minutes maximum, or 10-minute intervals with rest periods) as the effect won’t last much longer. Rub the muzzle after removal.
A war bridle is a general term for a headstall restraint device. The principle is a gag-type action between the upper gum and poll, and homemade war bridles are usually made from a length of vinyl-covered clothesline cord.
Most horse owners never need a war bridle, but stallion handlers often do. For instance, a Thoroughbred stallion in peak physical condition parading around a crowded saddling paddock before a race or on his way to the breeding shed can be a danger to himself and others.
The war bridle enhances control and submission without compromising forward motion. This cannot be accomplished with a twitch.
The best of this type device we have seen is The Stableizer. The nylon cord is covered with soft plastic tubing at the poll and gum, and a tension release button allows the handler to set a minimum tension, or pull the handle for a temporary increase.
Because the tension can be fine tuned, it can be used on very sensitive horses or bad actors with similar results. It is easy for one person to use and relatively inexpensive ($39.95). We have used it for vaccinations and treating injuries and have found it to be both quite effective and humane.
Contact Your Local Tack Store Or: The Stableizer Inc. 800/287-4791.
Also With This Article
Click here to view ”Restraining Foals.”