By Teresa Lewin
Horse sense or dog sense? How can horse riders be safe from dog attacks while riding?
Sheesh this is a tough one. I’m lucky that I have never had this problem when I went out with my horses. I would ‘pony’ one of my horses, ride one, and take all my GSD’s plus a goat out on rides. Horses can get spooked easily, and if the rider is anxious, this emotion may transverse to the horse as well.
The advice here is difficult as the human is sitting on top of a living breathing creature which weighs tons, not to mention that horses can be easily spooked due to their eye placement.
Our advice for bike riders is to get off the bike and Be a Tree, however, horses would have a hard time being a tree! Even flicking their tail can spark interest from a dog not to mention a dog that is chasing horse and rider.
All I can think of here is to desensitize the horse to an air horn so that it may be used if a dog is actually going to attack. Stopping could work if the horse would remain completely still, but this is unreasonable in most circumstances. The dog is most likely attacking because it finds chasing horses to be very rewarding. Just as dogs that chase cars and bikes. It’s actually the activity that the dog finds rewarding. Stopping the activity seems to be a logical step here, even trying to yell at the dog ‘no, go home!’ Even this tip has its obvious flaws if your horse isn’t accustomed to hearing you yell, than this behaviour could spook your horse! If you are in doubt, try stopping and If you have a cell phone, dialing your emergency number at this point would be a good idea.
I think the only tip I can give is preparing your horse for the ‘world’ so-to-speak. This involves a lot of prep work, or as horse people know it, ‘traffic’ conditioning. I remember working for months on this aspect alone with my own horses. Loud noises, cars, trucks, people, and yes, dogs. Teaching a horse to be calm in the face of danger is a relationship that is built through trust. Today clicker training is a fabulous way to build this trust. It’s especially good at teaching complex exercises, like perhaps standing completely still. I bet some of our expert clicker horse trainers can weigh in on this exercise!
I realize that some of you are thinking just let the horse take care of the problem. While I have observed in the past horses can take care of problem dogs while in the pasture, it’s a whole different matter when the horse is fully equipped plus a rider to contend with. Albeit, it is natural for horses to kick a threat, but the rider is in for a really good jolt and this behaviour can send a rider right off the horse and into the ditch! You can see how this can put the rider in obvious danger. I think if the rider could get off the horse, the horse would have a better chance at taking care of the problem. However, then there is an equipment issue which could be dangerous. You can see how this can become a difficult question to answer. There seems to be no quick fix solution to the problem threat of a dog attacking while riding. I think the horn is the best option. For our riders out there we would love to hear if you can condition your horse to the air horn.
If you are out and riding and a dog threatens you, you need to report the incident. This is really important. Reporting the incident means the complaint will be followed up. A paper trail is very important.
Wear your helmet and proper foot wear when riding and stay safe. As an after-thought, think about being pro-active, ask your town or city to do a mass mailing of our wonderful new Doggone Safe pamphlets. Your Town or City can have their logo placed on the brochures as an added bonus. Perhaps trying a collective sponsorship like all the local vets and pet shops and trainers can pay to have the brochures mailed to all citizens in your area!
Think of a slogan like, “ if you love your dog, keep them secure”, or ‘be a good neighbour, keep your furry friend secure” something like that. Get creative and go for it!
Be safe, Teresa Lewin