When loose dogs are a danger to themselves

December 08, 2020

We all try and enjoy a little time out – away from our desks, or our own four walls – now possibly more than ever given the uncertain world we live in.

I feel incredibly lucky that living where I do I have plenty of bridleways and Queen Elizbeth Country Park on my doorstep. It makes exercising the lovely H (I know he should have a better name, but he came without one and as there was just an ‘H’ on his passport, so that is what stuck) so easy. However, this year – almost more than any other – has seen the number of out of control dogs grow hugely.

I’ve had dogs and horses living side by side for almost 20 years and in that time, only once has one of my horses reacted. When riding I’m very aware of coming across dogs in open spaces – they, like horses need exercising every day and what better place than off road in the countryside. But owners sometimes simply don’t seem to know their dogs and that’s a worry.

In the last few weeks, H has been barked at, chased, jumped at, lunged at, rounded up as if he was a sheep, snarled at, not to mention had dogs appear out of nowhere because they’ve heard him and but their owners haven’t. He’s also had dogs almost hanging off his tail as their aggression over spills.

H’s reaction – he simply doesn’t care. He doesn’t shy away, he doesn’t bolt, he doesn’t kick out – it’s amazing. A horse’s natural instinct is well known to be flight or fight, but my amazing little horse simply doesn’t react. The majority of owners are pretty good. If they aren’t sure and have seen us coming, they’ll put their dog on a lead. Ditto if they have a young dog, many of which are naturally quite scared of a 600kg horse looming large at them. However, some – as today – don’t think. They don’t think what might happen if their dog gets kicked because it’s scared a horse into reacting, or runs off because it’s scared or terrifies the horse into rearing or bucking, throwing its rider and galloping off. All of these outcomes have consequences, none of them good.

I’ve been on the receiving end of plenty of unhelpful comments – why am I riding in a public place when they want to walk their dog to the skill of a rider is knowing when to stop. A public place is just that – open to all and the skill is not so much knowing when to stop as simply to stop when their highly over excited out of control pooch is running rings round my poor horse barking its head off.

In simple terms – please – if you don’t think your dog will 100% ignore a horse at whatever pace it happens to be going at, then hold on to it or call it back to you and put it on a leader. Of course there are circumstances when you may not have heard a horse coming, but it is still incumbent on you to have control of your dog. If your dog is loose and out of control, you at its owner can receive a significant penalty. If it gets trodden on, kicked or reared on by a horse, the injuries it will sustain will be at best life changing, at worse – not worth contemplating.

I feel I’m incredibly lucky that the lovely H is used to dogs and ignores them, but he’s been ambushed too often recently. Many other horses wouldn’t be so tolerant and it worries me that one day a dog will come off badly. If you’re in any doubt that your dog may try take a horse on, be aware of its body language and encourage it back you rather than adopt a wait and see approach. There aren’t many horses that are as good as H when it comes to unruly dogs.