Why Are My Horses Muscles Twisting?

Twitches can help keep horses under control during veterinary procedures, keeping their muscles from contracting and potentially becoming injured.

Traditional twitching involves attaching a looped rope to a long pole and using this piece of rope as an instrument of subduing horses, then twisting it around their lips or ears before applying tension and tightening it over their lips or ears. While barbaric, preliminary studies indicate it may also pose serious health risks to them.


Muscles are intricate tissue structures composed of various proteins, electrolytes and sugars in order to work effectively. When abnormalities in their physiology arise they can experience painful and uncontrollable contractions known as Rhabdomyolysis – this condition poses great danger to horses.

Horses may develop rhabdomyolysis due to infections such as Equine Herpesvirus 1, Staphylococcus aureus and Clostridium spp (Clostridium septicum, Clostridium perfringens and Clostridium Chauvoei). Inflammatory myopathy can also cause muscle problems; this occurs due to bacteria or infectious parasites entering muscles through abscesses and entering as infections.

Inflammatory myopathy may be caused by diseases like Equine Influenza 2 or Equine Herpesvirus 1, as well as conditions like Septicemia, Strangles and Pneumonia as well as infectious agents such as Anaplasma phagocytophilum, Spirochetes or Sarcocystis Fayeri.

At times, horses may also twitch during veterinary procedures. When emergencies arise where no sedative can be given to sedate the horse, using a nose twitch can prevent injuries as the animal receives assistance. While medications should never be given directly to an animal experiencing physical discomfort and panic, using the nose twitch allows veterinarians to work on it during a short window when the animal is relaxed and calm – whether by hand or equipment.


Muscles in a horse’s body rely on proteins, electrolytes and sugars to function optimally, so whenever abnormal changes to muscle physiology occur the animal may display symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Symptoms typically emerge during periods of extreme heat and humidity when horses lose fluids rapidly, leading to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, ultimately leading to muscle spasms and spasms – often known as “tying-up” or rhabdomyolysis. Extreme episodes of this condition can often prove fatal for horses. Symptoms may include uncontrollable muscle contraction, camped out posture and an abdomen tucked up tightly against its side. Furthermore, dark urine may indicate muscle proteins are breaking down into its bloodstream.

Muscle spasms in horses can often be traced back to diet, exercise, stress and vaccination schedules. Horses should receive high quality hay and fresh water on a daily basis and be allowed plenty of rest time. Owners should regularly palpate the muscles of their horses so as to recognize when they appear soft or contracted.

Recurrent spasms of the horse may not require formal diagnosis; however, it should still be investigated by a veterinary professional to ascertain possible conditions, such as herniated discs in its spine which could be irritating nerves that connect to muscles.


Muscles are complex tissues that rely on proteins, electrolytes and sugars for proper functioning. When these are lacking or unavailable to them, myopathy occurs; when this happens the muscle becomes damaged and cannot relax fully and may lead to muscle injury – these conditions are known as myopathies; their causes include excessive exercise, high grain diets or genetic diseases.

Inflammatory myopathy occurs as the result of bacteria or parasites infecting muscles, leading to inflammation which often develops into an abscess. Staphylococcus equi, Streptococcus spp and Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis are some of the culprits behind muscle abscesses.

Electromyography (EMG) may also help in diagnosing myopathy. A myopathy diagnosis typically begins with careful physical examination and palpation of muscle masses to ascertain levels of pain, swelling, and tone of muscle fibers. Electromyography (EMG) may also assist in pinpointing any muscle issues.

Make sure your horse stays well hydrated by giving him plenty of fibre throughout the day, which will aid relaxation and avoid dehydration. Massage techniques may help ease muscle tension and decrease frequency of twitching episodes; keeping the environment clean can also help decrease stress levels which exacerbate twitching episodes. Avoid medications as much as possible as these may interfere with muscle function and make symptoms worse; in cases of stringhalt diet changes may help decrease severity and duration.


Muscle spasms may not be pleasant experiences for any horse; however, they usually resolve with rest and dry hay while waiting for professional assessment of the situation. Sporadic muscle twitching commonly occurs following exercise or in hot, humid weather conditions where excessive sweating leads to dehydration and loss of electrolytes such as sodium (Na), potassium(K), chlorine(Cl), and calcium(Ca). This causes extracellular fluid loss which affects normal muscle function negatively.

Panniculus Carnosus muscle is responsible for producing the twitch reaction. When stimulated, such as by tickle from flies or an unexpected fly bite, neural messages travel through its fibers causing it to contract and twitch resulting in occasional charley horses; if frequent and unexplained this should be evaluated by a veterinarian; Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (PSSM), is one of the main culprits; this genetic disorder often affects light breeds, draft horses and warmbloods.

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