NutriBit For the New Year

I can barely contain my excitement. There is a new product on the market that feels to me like a direct answer to a prayer. My prayer was, “How can I make a seamless transition from ground work to under saddle using attraction-based methods?” Before I tell you about this new product, I feel the need to explain why I’m so enthused, even before trying it.

When it comes to ground work, I honestly feel the sky is the limit in terms of what can be accomplished with a horse with pressure-free training. On the ground I can harness the full use of attraction-based power through targeting. However, under saddle, I’m on the horse’s back and I feel the communication changes. The horse can no longer read my face, my body language, or follow targets as easily.

It’s never felt right to me that negative reinforcement (pressure-release) has to be the only line of communication under saddle. It’s bad enough that I’m assuming the position of a predator crouching on their back, then I subject the horse to all sorts of pushing, pulling, whacking and cropping to get the desired behavior. Not to mention strapping on a stiff saddle and a tight girth to their body and a metal bar in their mouth. The entire process is seriously invasive, potentially painful and no doubt traumatic if the horse receives inadequate explanation.

If I think about what happens to a horse under saddle too much, it’s almost enough for me to stop riding. The only thing that keeps me at the mounting block is the fact my horses come running to me when I have a saddle and bridle in my arms.

I spend the bulk of my waking day trying to figure out how I can make under-saddle activities as much fun and pressure-free as my attraction-based ground work.

Under saddle, I’ve used targets successfully (a ball I can throw) with my young Clyde, when I taught him to fetch. Instead of using pressure to teach him to walk forward, I simply threw the ball and he followed it, picked it up and handed it back to me. This allowed me, on our very first ride, to ride all over our pasture pressure-free, while he was happily communicating with me. You can see Raleigh, my Clyde targeting and fetching under saddle here. And Romeo, my Paso Fino, here.

Now that my Clyde and I have progressed beyond fetch-under-saddle, I’ve been searching for a way to reward under saddle without so much clicking and stopping for him to get his reward. I also train with verbal reinforcement, without clicking and food rewards, but I really miss the extra oomph that the food reward adds to his effort, and I think he does too.

So here it is. I think this new product may bind those seams together (treating under saddle) that until now have felt very separate. It’s called the Nutri-Bit. Here’s their description from their website:

It’s simple. NutriBit delivers liquids into your horse’s mouth with a device that is already in your horse’s mouth – the bit. We make the bit the delivery point and the reins the storage and delivery system.  All it takes is a gentle squeeze with your hand to take liquid nutrients immediately from the rein, to the bit, and drips right on top of your horse’s tongue. With this system all kinds of liquids are available for your use. This makes NutriBit a valuable piece of  horse tack.  It’s one of the most unique horse bits on the market.

My new NutriBit is in on the way as I type. It’s my prediction that this bit will revolutionize training as we know it, especially for all the clicker and positive reinforcement horse trainers.

Here’s the part I’m super thrilled to try, the treat is delivered instantly, no stopping to hand feed a treat. Here’s what this means to me: No more bouncing of my fanny pack, no more treats spilling onto my saddle getting trapped under my thighs. No more stopping a fantastic canter to pause to hand feed a treat. I can’t wait!

I can only imagine what this will mean to gaited horse trainers. The instant the horse is in gait, the horse can receive a liquid goodie with the mere squeeze of the delivery system. You can bet the horse will actively want to stay in gait.

For the jumpers, the horse could receive a liquid goodie just as his front legs are tucked perfectly. For dressage, no pausing during piaffe. For cutters, deliver a little liquid when it locks on to the correct cow. The possibilities are endless.

For any discipline, I can only imagine the positive effects with this type of reward system. I spoke with a NutriBit representative and he said he used it while training a young horse on a mountainous trail in Wyoming. He said the moment the horse started to get a little nervous, he squeezed the reins to release a tiny bit of liquid, and the horse calmed down and could focus. My heart literally leaped with joy thinking of how this product gave a young horse confidence and support during such a formative time in its training. What a wonderful way to create a solid foundation full of positive first impressions.

To me this is huge and supports my theory about the mare-foal relationship. A horse’s first experience with feeling secure and happy was receiving nourishment, (liquid nourishment) from its “Source of all Good Things,” mama.

When I duplicate that dynamic I think it feels very familiar to the horse and then the horse recognizes me as its Source. When I am the Source in my horse’s world, I suddenly and easily have all the trust and respect I could ever want, without ever having to assert my dominance through force, pain or pressure-release methods.

I think this new bit system could transform the future of riding. Apparently there is a NutriBit system in the works for driving. Just think about how wonderful it will be to positively reinforce your horse while remaining seated in a cart or carriage from 12 feet away!

So here it is, three cheers to new inventions, happy horses, and a positively prosperous New Year for everyone!

I’ll definitely keep you posted!

Cheryl

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12 thoughts on “NutriBit For the New Year

  1. wow this is a great find!! I’m headed over to their website right now. This might be perfect for the 2 young horses I am training right now.

    One of my ponies I ride in a bitless bridle due to his EXTREME hate of any type of bit in his mouth….but this might change his mind about the bit. I never had “quite” enough control with my bitless bridle (especially since we compete in speed sports) but hated how the bit made my horse feel.

    I’m sure you will post a review as soon as you get your new bit…can’t wait to read it.

    • I’m looking forward to trying it out. What a great way to create a wonderful impression of bits. I too ride in Dr. Cook’s BitlessBridle, but I feel it’s important for a horse to be able to carry a bit as well. For awhile I was convinced that Bitless was the only way, but when I started riding my Paso Fino mare with a bit, my mind began to change. I found I didn’t need to use any pressure with the bit, whereas with the Bitless she had a tendency to nose out and offer resistance even when she knew the cue to collect and give to the ‘nose band’.

      With the bit, she seems to focus more and definitely stays balanced and in gait. Now it will be very fascinating to see what happens with instant food/liquid reinforcement through the bit. I will definitely post a review as soon as I can.

      Happy New Year,
      Cheryl

      Happy New Year,
      Cheryl

  2. Pingback: I’ll take the Apple Flavor today « The Trick Ponies of Chincoteague

  3. Interesting!

    I would love to hear your review.

    Questions I would have–

    How much weight does the food pack add to the reins?

    The food dispenser thing looks to be more on 1 side than the other–will this make the weight of the reins uneven?

    Honestly, I like the stop and treat when riding. I think it gives me (and the horse) time to process what’s going on and think about the next attempt. However, I’ve never had a chance to clicker train any other way! So, it’s hard to imagine what it would be like if I could instantly give food.

    I look forward to your review!

    cheers,

    Mary

  4. I have to admit, I don’t like bits, and I don’t feel they’re necessary. I know from experience that behaviors can be taught on the ground, through positive means, that translate to in the saddle. If done correctly, most of the work necessary for riding is done before the rider ever gets on the horse as much more emphasis is put on teaching cues for forward and stop, lead changes, collection, etc, while still doing groundwork, especially as collection doesn’t come through bit contact, but through natural progression of proper go, stop, and turning of front and rear leg signals. I’ve practiced proofing the basic behaviors on groundwork so that when it’s time to get in the saddle, the horse is on a variable rate of reinforcement and has long since begun offering these behaviors for rewards other than food.

    I’m not sure the application of a reward via the bit is enough to cancel out the damage caused by them (physically) as well as the pressure and force that is inherent with using them, but I’m very curious about your results. Please do keep us informed.

    • I completely agree with you about bits. It’s such a catch 22 for me. Although its my hope to give my horses forever homes, I may not be their only owner. I like my horses to be conversant with bits as well as without. I also try to pair my attraction taught behaviors with cues that look like pressure so if some one else is handling them they’ll respond beautifully.

      Another thought I’ve had about bit-less bridles however, is that although there is no bit, there still is the presence of pressure. An ill fitting nose band can easily incur pain. Most of my riding is bit-less, however, it is giving birth to a desire to find a more ‘enlightened’ way to communicate rather than having something attached to their head. Obviously I need more time working on seat and leg cues, but I’m still on the fence to the lesser of the two forces…pressure from a nose band or pressure from a bit.

      You’ve labeled the goal of my attraction-based work is to teach everything from the ground with verbal cues, or touch cues, without pressure so that under saddle, the line of communication is still attraction-based not pressure/release (negative reinforcement).

      So for instance most of the horses we see that are being ridden bridle-less, no doubt have an extensive career of being ridden with bits, and plenty of pressure based training gradually reduced to invisible cues. My question has always been, “Why can’t we take an unstarted horse and train them from the ground up to be ridden bridle-less without ever having to use negative reinforcement?

      My work with Raleigh, my Clyde has been very supportive with this. The first time I was on his back, he was unhaltered and unrestrained.
      I felt more safe with him than any other horse, as he had been taught to target his front feet to a concrete paver. When I was on his back I knew was firmly attached by his brain to his feet to the paver. It was an amazing feeling, to rely on our brain to brain connection rather than rein to bit/noseband.

      Even now, I can ride him completely bridle-less as long as I have a ball for him to fetch. I simply throw the ball where I want him to go and he goes. Now my task is to get forward motion and direction without a visual target.

      My plan for the Nutri-bit was to essentially have my horses carry it, rather than use it for the traditional means of communication. I’m wondering if the Nutri-bit folks could create a bit-less dispenser where it delivered a reinforcer into the horse’s mouth via a little tube or something not attached to a mouth piece but still attached to the reins?

      Thanks so much for your insightful comment,
      Cheryl

  5. i haven’t read your blog in a while cheryl and was a bit dissapointed when i read about your great “new find” the nutribit. to me, any bit in a horses mouth is always going to be about a human once again “controlling” a horse. i never got this until i put one in my mouth one day and even tho our mouths are very different, it got the point across quite well. so let me ask you this…what is it really all about, putting the welfare of the horse first and looking for ways to release them from all forms of human control? or looking for ways to control them that appear to be less invasive and more friendly? seems to me that if we really care about the horse, we give up ever even trying to control and give up all the bits, sticks, bats and tools. they don’t use any with us do they? maybe we should level the playing field. any bit, squirting sweet stuff or not, is all about control. give it up and i believe, you have a true friend. and about da vinci ever letting you ride him? my blackfoot grandmother told me that if your horse is telling you he doesn’t want you up there and you insist and keep trying, he won’t come for you at your time of passing because you will have damaged his wings.

    • Hi Roxanne,
      I’m sorry to hear of your disappointment. The more I play and experiment and ‘talk’ with my horses, it seems that all arrows are pointing to their view of pressure. In my experience I have a horse that does not like being ridden bitless. The nose band becomes something for her to push against. Even with all my training to teach her to give, and follow the feel of the noseband, when she is ridden with a bit, she appears much happier. It could be because somewhere in her early training she had bad feelings toward being controlled by her nose.

      My mare that prefers the bit, is the same one who we’ve nicknamed Gerbil, because everything goes into her mouth. Even at age 10 she still manages to find an available lead rope and proceeds to suck it into her mouth and hold it there. When ridden bitless, she’d push against the noseband and hollow her back. This in my opinion was not a healthy way for her to travel, way too much wear and tear on her joints and muscles.

      With the bit, (something she could play with) she suddenly became round, attentive and focused. In my opinion, in her mind the bit was not representative of control, let alone pain, because of her reaction to it. The pressure on the reins was reduced to zero. In my present level of understanding she felt like more a participant with the bit than bitless. I felt like I was being much more fair in my communication. But again, it was for this particular mare.

      My thoughts about the Nutri-bit, is that as long as people are riding horses, they will be using bits. In all fairness to my horses, I may not be their only owner and they may not always be ridden bitless. I make it a point that all my horses know how to accept all forms of traditional communication. They know and respond to bits, as well as pressure based cues, although I teach all those cues with attraction-based methods first.

      If the Nutri-Bit helps horses enjoy carrying a bit in their mouth than I see this as a good thing. It’s also a product that’s in development and they may be able to develop a bitless bridle that delivers a liquid reward as well. Again I see these developments as progressive ways to make any horse’s life better given our present understanding.

      Unfortunately to keep a horse in domesticity the horse has to be subject to being controlled. They are constrained by fences. We have to put halters and leads to walk (control) them safely down the road. They have to let us wedge their hooves between our knees for hoof trimming. These are all means of control.

      My focus is to be able to give my horses as much choice and voice in these situations. So if I have to walk them in hand with a halter and lead, I’ll use a target stick to give them a choice to touch it and follow it instead of having to tug on their halter. I never just grab a hoof and hoist it up, I ask first. I give the horse the opportunity to hand me it’s hoof.

      For some people the issue of bitting a horse is about control. For me it’s about communication. The bits, bats and tools are only as harsh as the hand wielding them and the horse’s understanding of what they mean. For DaVinci, the wave of hand, means the world is going to end, because of his traumatic past. For Raleigh, my young Clyde, the wave of a hand means, “Someone is going to pet me!”

      Also too, with DaVinci, it’s not about my quest to ride him. It’s all about helping him become a deliberate creator, so if there is a time I do not own him, he will have pleasant associations with all aspects of being a horse, and in turn help his handlers view him as a wonderful horse and not a problem. Problem horses seem bring out the worst in people.

      I’m thrilled to report that in the last few months DaVinci has become practically unrecognizable in a great way. Over the past three years I’ve made about a zillion deposits into his trust account, and just a few days ago, he let me do the unthinkable. I fly sprayed his entire body. He was untied, free to run away but chose to to stay. He was no longer afraid of the bottle, the hissing, the spraying sensation. In fact, I can hold out the the bottle and he walks toward it and targets the bottle with his neck, which tells me he’s ready for more spray. It’s been such a beautiful transition to see.

      Several years ago his actions would have told me “I don’t want you fly spraying me!”, but in Florida with the mosquito population, it’s in his best health interests for him to accept fly spray. After sufficient time and practice, based on his readiness, he’s ‘told’ me he’s ready to accept fly spray.

      I feel the same way about riding him. He’s a young beautiful horse. If there is a time when I am not his only handler, than no doubt someone may try to ride him. I think I owe it to him, to give him a loving, compassionate start to carrying a rider just as I gave him that time for fly spray. Each time he overcomes a fear, his personality morphs. It’s as if he is thrilled, relaxed, more confident that something that frightened him, is no longer in that category. As far as the fear of damaging his wings, I feel as though I’m helping him grow them. He no longer is a horse that is petrified of his environment. He now whinnies when he sees people and has a willingness to interact with them, instead of running away.

      His transformation has been such a highlight in my life. It’s based on giving him choices within the environment of a forced domesticity. If we lived in world such as portrayed in the movie Avatar, than we all could have that amazing brain to brain communication where fences, halters, leads, bits, saddles, will not be necessary. Until then my plan is to continue to give my horses as much freedom and choices within an environment of control.

      I have to keep in mind also, that just because someone is riding their horse bridle-less, for example, doesn’t mean that the horse isn’t feeling pressure. It may have been taught these behaviors out of fear. At the root of it’s unfettered obedience, may be the threat of punishment or past memories of an unpleasant feeling when it behaved incorrectly.

      IMHO, each horse is an individual. In my experience, I have one horse that loves being ridden bitless and another who prefers the bit. I don’t believe a bit should necessarily be symbolic of control or pain. Nor should bitless riding be associated with enlightenment. In sensitive and trained hands the bit is a finely tuned tool of communication. The same can be said of a bitless riding, the cartilage along the nose is also very sensitive and subject to abuse. In insensitive hands, a bitless bridle can cause more harm than a bit in hands that are attuned to the horse.

      The beautiful thing about horses, is just like people, they change, evolve, and grow. The more I play with attraction-based methods, the issue of control seems to disappear and transition into more of a communion, where both horse and human truly want what’s best for each other. That category of ‘what’s best’ will undoubtedly differ from horse to horse and person to person.

      Just as I’m trying to give my horses the maximum freedom of expression, I want to do the same for humans. In the past, I was quick to judge folks that used bits, because I rode bitless. Then I tried one on my mare and she appeared to be so much happier. What this told me was that a good answer to so many things, is “It depends.” It depends of the horse, the bit, the hands, the communication, the history, the day, the diet, if Mercury is Retrograde….There are so many variables to take into account to gauge how controlled a horse really feels.

      This is what I appreciate about your comment, is that you mention the most important thing of all, to pay attention to what your horse is telling you. I’ve found that what my horses have to say is always changing, which means I have to always keep listening!

      Thank you! Cheryl

  6. Did you ever test out this bit? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it as I’m interested in maybe trying it with my boys. I have one in particular that has to put EVERYTHING in his mouth, reins, etc. I think switching from bitless to a bit might help his oral fixation. I think he really wants to have something in his mouth.

    • I’m still in the process of testing. The one I was working with kept getting clogged and they’re sending me a new one. I was waiting until I got the new one to give it a full review. I did try it briefly on my mouthy mare. I too rode her exclusively bitless, but then began introducing her to a KK style oval mouth snaffle. This particular style bit has been phenomenal for teaching her self carriage as there is nothing for her to lean against. She does play with it because it is double jointed, but she’s still rather new to a bit, and her nick name is, after all Gerbil, because like your boy, everything goes into her mouth.

      When I did briefly try out the NutriBit, she seemed very pleased when it was working. But since I couldn’t tell when it was administering liquid, it was difficult for me to click and treat (squeeze the liquid out) with confidence, not knowing if she was receiving reinforcement. This I hope will change with the new demo.

      I’ll totally keep you posted.

      Cheryl

      • Cheryl–

        Were you able to experiment any more with the nutribit?

        The more I think about it, the more I think something like this could be really helpful in certain situations (if it was well designed).

        Anyways, I’d be interested in hearing a full review at some point!

        Mary

      • Hi Mary,

        The Nutribit is still in development. As soon as I get more updates, I’ll give it a full review. The unit I’ve tried has a D-Ring Snaffle. My mare is used to an Oval mouth (double jointed) loose ring. I’m hoping they’ll develop a variety of bits as I feel certain horses get really attached to a particular ‘feel’ in their mouth. As I can tell, there will be many variables that will determine its effectiveness from the type of bit to the horse’s preference for the liquid treat in the dispenser and of course the timing of the reinforcement……

        Cheryl

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