Keeping dogs & horses safe on walks

Woman riding a horse in a field with a Border Collie

Now the days are longer, dog walkers and horse riders will be taking advantage of the early evening light and sharing many routes. It is important that both groups learn to anticipate the behaviour of each other’s animals.Woman riding a horse in a field with a Border Collie

Dogs that are unfamiliar with horses can start barking if they catch sight of one or even set off after them in ‘chase mode’. If you are not sure how your dog will react then it would be sensible to keep him on a lead until you can see a clear path ahead.

Remember, if startled, a horse may bolt and the rider will have very little control over what happens next. Horses are flight animals and when confronted with a perceived threat (i.e. a barking dog) they are likely to resort to the survival strategy of flight.

This is a very dangerous situation for both owners and their dogs; they might be knocked over by the fleeing horse. It is also dangerous for the rider as they can fall off or be struck by tree branches. Other road users and members of the public can be at risk if the horse bolts into a busy road. In addition, if the horse kicks out in self-defence there can be life threatening injuries – particularly for a dog – as heavy metal horseshoes can inflict serious damage.

What can dog owners do?

  • Wear high visability clothing so that horse riders can see you in the distance.
  • Call your dog to you and make sure you keep him under control (on the lead if necessary) until the horse(s) has passed and is sufficiently far enough away for your dog to lose interest.
  • Make sure you make yourself known to horse riders so that they can slow to a walk and, if you are approaching a horse from behind, do not try to get past without letting the rider know you are close by.
  • Speak to the riders – horses often relax when the rider acknowledges the presence of someone or something and this gives your dog a chance to become familiar with horses.
  • Don’t allow your dog to suddenly ‘appear’ from behind a tree or from undergrowth as this will startle the horse.
  • Don’t forget to thank horse riders who make sure their horses pass calmly and safely.

What can horse riders do?

  • Wear high visability clothing so that dog walkers can see you in the distance.
  • Don’t trot or canter if you can’t see a clear path ahead.
  • Make yourselves known to dog walkers, so that they can put their dog on a lead or get them under control – especially if you are approaching from behind.
  • If you see a loose dog, stop and see if you can locate the owner as you won’t know how the dog will react.
  • Pass dogs and people at a walk and in single file.
  • Give owners with excitable dogs time to get them under control.
  • Do not shout, scream or wave your hands about as this may excite the dog and trigger a chase response.
  • Always thank dog walkers for keeping their dog under control.

In essence, treat horse riders and dog owners as you would like them to treat you – with understanding and courtesy. After all, the countryside is for all of us to enjoy!

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