Dogs at Equestrian Events

As horse owners we tend to be animal lovers. I don’t know the actual statistics on how many horse owners also have dogs (or indeed any other animal), but in my experience it is quite a high proportion of us. I’m sure that we’ve all had the dream of hacking out with our faithful canine happily trotting alongside, but sadly the reality often is that horses and dogs aren’t always the best of friends. According to the British Horse Society, there has been a great increase in reports of dog attacks on horses recently and I have definitely noticed increased controversy around our canine companions attending equestrian events. I attended both Withington Manor Horse Trials and Gatcombe Festival of Eventing as a spectator this year and at both events there was chaos at least once when a loose dog chased a combination on the cross country phase. This has resulted in a few calls for dogs to be banned from attending equestrian events for everyone’s safety. Olivia Wilmot talked to Horse and Hound about her anger after being chased by a dog at Gatcombe last year, she may not have been hurt but it is hardly optimum competing conditions. Others argue that a few incidents like this shouldn’t be allowed to ruin it for the hundreds of well behaved dogs and their responsible owners who attend these events safely every year. Luckily, I didn’t see anyone actually get hurt, but even one accident would be one too many!

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From personal experience, as the owner of a rescued Jack Russell Terrier, I’ve been working hard to teach my dog about responsible behaviour around horses. I still wouldn’t trust him off the lead around them, but he’s basically fine now on the yard and when he sees them hacking while we’re walking. Poor, tolerant Ginge has been brilliant during the desensitisation process. He has come with us on walks and I’ve hacked round the field with my partner leading the dog nearby – we’ve done a fairly good job at convincing him that horses are extremely boring and not worth barking at.

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I still prefer not taking him to equestrian events though and generally speaking I just don’t do it. I was talked into giving him a try at attending Gatcombe this year, I had tickets for my birthday and everyone we would normally have left him with was away. His best doggy friend, Barney, was coming along too and we hoped they would just be quiet together. Honestly, I won’t be taking him again. I’m not sure it was an enjoyable outing for either of us. It turns out, despite all our hard work and training there are two things that are just too much for my tiny dog to cope with: clapping and horses galloping. You can expect both of these things at an event and he handled it as many terriers would – with a lot of barking. As a result, I spent the whole day consoling or attempting to discipline the dog (neither worked) and did a lot of laps of the car park or shopping areas to steer clear of the horses and riders. I saw very little eventing and came home exhausted with a headache. Not an experience I plan on repeating.

There were plenty of dogs there, including terriers, who behaved perfectly all day of course. I may be banning my own dog from attending equestrian events, but I don’t think this needs to apply to all dogs. It just needs us as dog owners to act responsibly and decide the best course of action as individuals to make sure everyone has a safe and enjoyable experience. As much as we love to have them with us everywhere, sometimes the best choice for everyone is to leave them behind with a responsible adult. I was disappointed to miss out on the action at Gatcombe to retreat to a safe place with the dog, but I was more comfortable leaving and missing out than stressing him out and taking the risk of causing an accident on the course. I think we’ll be sticking to our quiet country walks in future – I hope other people make responsible choices about what suits their pooches too.

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9 thoughts on “Dogs at Equestrian Events

  1. I dont think dogs should be banned but I feel that if something were to happen that would interfere with the competition the owners should be held accountable and possibly fined – a bit harsh maybe but if you think of the money the riders spend to get to that level to then be interupted by a dog chasing you it really is unfair. Just my opinion on the subject 🙈

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  2. I’m always nervous when I see an off-leash dog on the trails near the barn. Most dogs mind their owners, but not all. Makes me super nervous! Agreed, all owners should be held accountable regardless.

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    • Thank you :).
      That’s a sensible approach with yours. I genuinely think a lot of dogs are no problem. We have plenty of owners let their dogs loose on our yard with no issue at all. It’s just about making sensible choices and knowing your animals

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  3. I’m a dog lover / owner but really am beginning to lean more towards the side that calls for dogs to be banned from events. It baffles me why so many bring their dogs along for the day just to spend it shushing and wrestling or hitting them as some do when they bark and yap and get up on their toes at every passing horse. If nothing else it’s unfair on the dogs.

    Then there are owners that just seem oblivious to the fact their dog is making a God Almighty racket and will stand right by fences and not even hear the sound of their yelping and yapping dogs.

    Worst was at Burghley’s XC this year. My husband and I were sat on some grass and spotted a young kid no more than 6 or 7yrs old with a little dog on the lead but quite a way in front. Made me say “Why would anyone leave a kid that age to hold a dog -” and before I could finish a horse came steaming up making the dog set off and the child lost his grip and several people gasped in horror.

    Horse passed before the dog could get onto the course fortunately but we heard a very half-arsed voice go “Timothy… Timothy I told you to keep hold of him what did I say?”

    Obviously most owners are sensible and most dogs quite happy and not in the least bit reactive but I would go along with an outright ban just to save the likes of Timothy seeing his dog trampled to death and forever having that on his conscience.

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    • You’re absolutely right that incidents like this are becoming far too common. I normally only see one or two of these per event but all your examples ring true. I’ve also been horrified to see small children leading dogs and heading for obvious disaster. It makes you wonder if people think these things through at all. My dog is tiny but no small child could hold him if he decided he was running!
      I wonder if there’s a middle ground, as the rules only permit well behaved dogs on leads, where officials could have the rights to ask people to leave if their dog is clearly out of control. However, I imagine this would be hard to police at events of this size and could result in the same irresponsible people shutting the dogs in the car instead. At least maybe the shame of having their actions pointed out would make them think.
      I personally won’t be taking mine again. I don’t think either of us had a good time hiding in the car park at gatcombe!

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      • I’ve definitely noticed more aggravated sounding tannoy reminders to keep dogs on short leads and under control in recent years anyway. Some people literally stand there as though they cannot hear their dogs yapping and barking and whimpering and I want to tap them on the shoulder and ask “Do you have legit hearing difficulties or have you long since managed to turn off to that dog?”

        One guy was yanking and shouting at / hitting his border collie he expected to walk no more than a foot from the pram he was pushing and it was clearly out of frustration. I own two BC’s and know how hard work they can be when triggered by movement and noise and all that stuff going on which is why we leave ours at home.

        That guy telling off poor Timothy though… Felt like shouting at him “He’s a six year old kid it’s not his responsibility Jeez are you high or really that numb??!”

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      • She did well just to shout and swear. I’d have done a full u-turn and chased that fecker all the way back where it came from. Would have taken whatever was coming to me afterwards too just for the satisfaction.

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