Anyone who owns a dog knows how much fun they have running free in the fields or along a path. Seeing them have fun and get good exercise make us happy too. Horse
riders feel the same about their horses. Horses are an animal that spends up to 18 hours a day on the move and due to domestication they sometimes are not able to, this is
why having a good run is necessary. It is also very enjoyable. However if both parties are to have a safe and enjoyable time exercising, there are a few things we need to look
What Horses Think
Horses have evolved over 60 million years, with the modern “Equus” being around for 4 million years. It is widely believed that horses were domesticated around 6000 years
ago or more. They were and still are prey animals though and they will never loose this trait. Horses are still naturally shy, weary and fright easily in case a threat is a predator.
This can make them afraid of anything running at them, anything moving in the distance, any sudden movement or any loud noises.
Horses are primarily a flight animal, but if cornered or attacked can fight back with force. Fleeing (or “bolting”) will occur if the threat is far enough away that the horse thinks it
has a chance of escape. A horse bolting will not consider roads, barbed wire fence, ditches or the fact that its rider may be a young child or adult who will come off and get
Fighting usually occurs if something appears suddenly, or is already too close for the horse to run away from. The horse may
spin and kick out with its hind legs, rear up and come down upon or bite at its percieved threat. All of these actions can kill even
the largest of predator animals in a short time, so even a large dog is at great risk.
When a horse sees a dog coming at them, the most common reactions tend to be:
Running away in fear or “bolting”
Bucking to be able to kick out its hind legs at the dog
Chasing the dog with its teeth bared/biting the dog
Rearing up and brining its front hooves down on the dog
All of these actions can result in death or injury to the dog, the horse and/or rider and potentially other walkers who attempt to interviene. Most riders have a good amount of
control over their mounts and have desensitised them to dogs, but they can only control them so far; if the horse fears for its safety it can and will act of its own accord.
What Dogs Think
Dogs have been man’s best for thousands of years, but it is important to know why. Dogs were used primarily for hunting down large prey animals and guarding from large
predators. This trait has never left dogs which means all dogs have the ability and the courage to go after a large animal and attempt to bring it down or drive it off from their
masters, no matter how small they are themselves. However some more timid dogs have the opposite reaction and won’t consider environmental dangers like roads when
running in fear, just like a horse.
When a dog sees a horse the most common reactions tend to be:
Running away in fear
Barking at the horse
Chasing the horse
Biting its tail and legs
Generally getting too close to its legs
Trying to bite at its chest, head/neck or stomach
In a pack of two or more dogs, they will generally aim for different areas of the horse
All of these actions can result in death or injury to the dog, the horse and/or rider and potentially other walkers. Some dogs are fine with horses, and enjoy going out with them
on a ride, but if you have not desensitised your dog to horses you may find recalling them difficult.
Dog owners be aware of the law
Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 - https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1991/65/contents
Dogs (Protection of livestock) Act 1953 - http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Eliz2/1-2/28
What You Can Do
Fortunately there are a few easy steps you can take to ensure your dog or horse is less likely to be injured in an encounter.
For horse owners:
Socialise your horse with dogs from a young age
Practice the steps needed to stop or slow your horse if it is bolting (see a good training website or ask your instructor for advice)
Always wear body protection on a bridleway or somewhere you expect dogs to be
Always wear fluorescent clothing so a dog walker can spot you sooner
Have tags on both yourself and your horse with an ID, any medical problems and a contact telephone number
Be polite and considerate to walkers, thank them if they call or hold their dogs back and ALWAYS slow down to go past them
For dog owners:
Get your dog used to large animals from a young age
Practice good re-call with your dog or keep them on a training/retractable lead
Carry a bag of treats or a favourite toy of the dogs to help distract it
Consider wearing florescent clothing so a rider can spot you sooner
Have tags on your dog with ID and a contact telephone number in case it flees
Be polite and considerate to riders, thank them for slowing
Make sure your dog is focused on you and is not going to run back after the horse even if it has passed
Now days people like to have all sorts of pets from birds to reptiles to llamas. Keeping them safe is a priority, but making sure they don’t put
anyone else at danger should also be considered.
Llamas/Alpacas: Most horses have never encountered a llama or an alpaca, so these strange animals may really frighten them because
of their smell. If you have one which is in a field beside a bridleway or is in a pasture with a bridleway going through, please put up signs to
alert riders to their presence. Anyone with an alpaca or llama knows how territorial they can be, so ensure they will not be putting dogs or
walkers at risk if they are in a pasture with a public walk way.
Chickens/Game/Exotic birds etc. Country living is becoming more and more popular. Many people are getting their own chickens and
other fowl. They need a secure pen so that predators like foxes cannot get in, but also dogs. Dogs can be a lot bigger or a lot smaller so
may be able to get in through a hole a fox couldn’t or jump a fence a fox couldn’t. Ensure the safety of your birds with a tall fence with small
holes. Birds close to a bridle-path my also frighten a horse by flapping about. If possible put up a sign
warning that a pen contains birds.
Other: It is also important for dog walkers and riders to remember about fields with cattle in them. At certain times of the year cattle will be
very protective of young and may become aggressive. Look out for “BULL IN FIELD” signs and try to avoid them if possible.
It is also important for land owners to know the law surrounding animals that are allowed on public footpaths and bridleways, see the
following link for advice: http://www.ramblers.org.uk/rights_of_way/knowledge_portal/advice_notes/animals.htm
A horse kicking out will seriously injure a dog or walker