California Riding Magazine • May, 2008

Ask Charles Wilhelm
Socializing Starts in the Field

Reader: I have a young horse and I board him at home. I work full-time and I don’t get to work with him as much as I would like. He is alone a lot of the time, and when I do take him out he is skittish around other horses. What can I do about this?

Charles: We all have busy times when we can’t work with our horses as much as we would like. Family, illness, work and weather can prevent us from working our horses consistently. Whether you board your horse at home or in a stable, try to find someone to help you turn the horse out everyday or so. It’s important that a young horse get some kind of exercise.

You can also socialize your horse by putting him out with other hand-picked horses. Being with another horse will help him learn how to act around his own kind. Socialization with their own kind, another baby or an adult horse, is very important and should be part of your horse’s training program. Socialization can affect the emotional and mental development of your horse and make for a more well rounded horse.

When I first bought my horse Tennison at 18 months, he had never been exposed to any kind of socialization. It took him several years to learn how to “be a horse” -- to romp, play, rear, bite and chase other horses in a pasture or corral. Horses are just like people in that if they are not socialized enough, they do not know how to act around their own kind. With socialization, a horse learns how to accept pressure and leadership better. An adult horse will educate a youngster. Any time a puppy comes to the ranch, my dog Max, who is 4 years old, seems to think it is his job to teach the puppy manners. An older horse does the same thing. I use mares for this because they are usually good teachers.

As you only have one horse and board your horse at home, how do you provide the socialization? Try to get your horse out with others at trail rides or horse shows. Some of my clients have adopted or bought rescue horses with lameness problems to provide companionship for their horse. This way, not only can you save a life by adopting a horse who normally wouldn’t be adoptable, but you can also make your horse happy. I have also had clients who have gotten a goat to provide companionship for their horse, and I have seen the two animals romp and play together.

Match Maker

Because not every horse is a good match and you don’t want your horse hurt, you do have to be careful which other horse you match your horse up with. We do this regularly at the ranch when a horse comes in for training and I have never had any major problems or accidents other than a horse giving or getting a nip here and there. I have seen more horses get hurt by themselves than when they are with others. We try to match up two to three horses in the large turnouts so that they get plenty of socialization.

If you board out, it is important to pay attention to what goes on and to speak up when the situation isn’t good. Even the most conscientious ranch or stable owner can get busy and not see everything that is going on. You can’t assume that when you board your horse out, anyone but you is going to routinely see that everything is going well. Know your horse well -- their behavior, soundness and personality.

God Bless,

Charles Wilhelm
It’s Never Ever the Horse’s Fault