In many regards, restraint is the single most important aspect of the equine physical examination.  Without adequate restraint, the examiner will be unable to complete a meaningful examination.

The size and strength of horses make them potentially dangerous


Safety is key.

·        Veterinarian:  no job is worth doing if you are going to get hurt.

·        Handler (owner/manager):  must be confident in handler’s ability

Instruct them as necessary; you are in charge.

Be aware of legal considerations if handler gets injured.

·        Animal:  use minimal necessary restraint required.

Restraint does not equal physical force.

Be aware of legal considerations if animal gets hurt.


Horses are individuals and have individual personalities; some are more spooky than others (P)

         They also have breed characteristics (Thoroughbred vs. Draft) (P)

                        and age characteristics (foal vs. adult) (P)

                        Be aware of these when choosing appropriate restraint technique.


Horses should, if possible, be approached from their left side (called the “near” side).  They will usually be easier to work around if you work as much as possible from that side.  Best place to work is near the shoulder, slightly off to the side—definitely not directly in front.  Generally, handler and examiner should be on same side of horse whenever possible.


There are three main categories of restraint:  physical, verbal and chemical—they may be used alone or together.


Physical Restraint:

            Always at least some minimum form of restraint required.

                        A.     Minimum restraint required:  halter and lead rope (P)

                           ·   A PE should never be attempted without a halter and lead rope
                                in place with someone holding the horse.

                            ·        Never wrap lead around your hand, arm or any 
                                other body part (P)

                           ·        Never tie a horse unless you know
                                it is accustomed to being tied.

                         B.     Chain over nose 

            Provides additional restraint

 C.     Lip or gum chain 

                        More severe, often used on breeding stallions

 D.     Twitching with hand

                        Neck twitch 

                        Nose twitch (P)

                        Ear twitch  

 E.      Twitching with device (P)

·        Different types –

                                    wood with rope (P); less severe than…

                                    wood with chain (P)

                                    metal (P)

·        Applying twitch –

                                    firmly grasp muzzle with fingers through loop 

                                    place loop over end of nose and twist the stick.  

May be tightened or loosened as appropriate.

·        Considerations –

NEVER let go of twitch—can swing and injure you, handler, or horse (P)

Size counts—the longer the twitch, the more control (P)

Do not leave twitch on too long—may cause damage or become ineffective.

Never put twitch device on ear—if you feel this may be necessary, consider chemical restraint.

F.      Lifting a limb (P)

·        May be helpful to allow examination of weight-bearing limbs.  Use with caution—horses are stronger than you are.

G.     Crossties (P)

·        Appropriate for grooming but generally crossties or tying a horse is not recommended while conducting a physical exam

·        Definitely not for painful or bothersome procedures

H.     Stocks (P)

·        Very helpful for rectal exams and reproductive evaluations.

·        Not foolproof—horses may try to jump out or go down


Rectal Exam Restraint Considerations

                             ·        Over half door (P)—may protect from kick but if 
                                  horse goes down, you lose your arm.

                             ·        Around corner (P)—safe but may lose some reach.


Verbal Restraint

            Talking to horses has a major effect.  A soothing, reassuring tone goes a long way in calming a fractious horse.  Similarly, a sharp authoritative tone accompanied by a tug on the lead rope may help keep a fidgety horse in place.


Chemical Restraint (P)

            Do not be afraid to use chemical restraint.  (However, use of chemical restraint may alter some PE findings—heart rate, etc.  So if you are planning on using chemical restraint, attempt general physical exam first.)  Can be used alone or with other techniques or devices.  Consider animal’s weight, age, health, and task to be performed when considering chemical restraint and agent(s) to be used.  Select and dose appropriately.  (Link to Field Anesthesia)


Foals—special consideration (P)

            Very different than adults—they lack training and experience so the commands, techniques, and devices used in adults are often ineffective and potentially dangerous.

            Best method of foal restraint (P)

                        Arm in front of chest and arm behind rump while grabbing tail

            NEVER pull on foal’s head (P)

            NEVER tie a foal.

                        (Link to Foal Physical Exam)





Copyright 1999-2001
New Bolton Center Field Service Department
Students:  Keith Javic - Class of 2003, C. Nikki Conroy - Class of 2003