Walk through the barn aisle at any horse show and you’re bound to encounter a whole slew of dogs who travel in companion with their humans. Barn dogs are common at just about every horse establishment – truthfully, I’m a little weirded out if a horse person doesn’t own a dog. But is a horse show really the time and place to mix dogs with horses?
Full disclosure: I have a dog. He travels everywhere with me, even out running errands on the weekends. And yes, this includes horse shows and barn visits. He’s a great barn dog, doesn’t bark, doesn’t get underfoot, doesn’t run away. But surely this is what every horse person says about their dog.
It’s true, dogs and horses often times do go quite well together. But there does need to be a more strictly followed set of rules and boundaries. The Target store near my house was dog friendly, up until recently. It was a cool thing – first, who doesn’t love Target? Second, who wouldn’t want to bring their dog to Target? So you can imagine my disappointment when I arrived at the doors one day to see a big “Service Dogs Only” sign had been hung up. All I could think was, “OK, who ruined it for everyone?”
And it’s true. It only takes one bad experience, one irresponsible owner, to ruin everything. I say this from the bottom of my doggo-loving heart: let’s be a bit more respectful, shall we? Here are some basic ground rules I’d love to see followed (and, ahem, enforced, at horse shows):
1. If your dog weighs 97 pounds and requires three handlers, maybe think about leaving him at home.
Not to be a dog snob, but large, unruly dogs can be a lot to handle. Big dogs are awesome, and they’re often found wandering at the farm. But the fact remains that some dogs are more “portable” than others, and therefore need to be handled as such. Sure, bring your big ole’ Saint Bernard to the horse show! But please make sure you have the manpower to keep him from going all bull-in-the-china-shop down the barn aisle. No, this doesn’t mean tying him by his leash to your stall door while you wander off to the bar.
2. If your dog is aggressive, nervous, or has a high prey drive, please leave him at home.
Most dogs don’t have an aggressive bone in their body, but if yours happens to be one who has a history of roughing up other dogs, going after small dogs or cats, or biting humans, please do us all a favor and leave him at home. No one wants a grave injury on their conscience. Nervous dogs can and will bite out of fear and anxiety. Many dogs with herding instincts also love to try to “herd” horses – which is what you often see when a dog gets loose and chases a horse.
3. Verbal leashes need not apply.
I’m not entirely sure who even came up with the term “verbal leash”, but let’s ditch those in favor of the real ones, eh? My dog is on a verbal leash too – until he sees the food court. Then there’s no stopping him (really, I can’t blame him). Hence, the real leash. (Hint: you can get a fancy laced leather one from Pup & Pony Co. here)
4. Please don’t pee on my hay.
I certainly wouldn’t want to eat something that someone or something had urinated on, so please keep your dog’s lifted leg away from my hay bales. One thing that helps with this is a leash (not the verbal kind).
5. No, my dog or my horse doesn’t necessarily want to be your dog’s friend.
Not every dog is a social butterfly. In fact, allowing dogs to simply run up to another dog unannounced can often be a trigger for an actual confrontation should one dog get defensive or scared. So just be respectful. Yelling after your dog as he drags you towards another person, a child, or a smaller dog that “he’s friendly, don’t worry!” doesn’t necessarily mean much in the wrong situation. So keep yourself in control, and don’t leave your dog unattended. Horses, after all, are flight animals, so a wayward dog or even an overly friendly one can cause a spook that didn’t need to happen in the first place (trust me, there are so many other things your horse will spook at without adding more to the mix).
Some shows have taken the hard line and banned dogs from the grounds altogether. The recent FEI World Equestrian Games did not allow dogs through the gates, save service animals. While I’d hate to see the equestrian world go in this direction, I do feel that some enforcement of rules is necessary in order to prevent this from being the solution. Show organizers and staff, that goes for you too – you have to lead by example. If I see your pack of dogs causing a ruckus while you’re in the office, then why should anyone else follow the rules?
No, I’m not calling for “dog police” to ride around in shiny black golf carts issuing tickets to offending dog owners. But if fines or yellow cards would help stymie the issue of unruly dogs, perhaps this is the way to go. But first, if we all just started to think a bit more considerately and handle our animals accordingly, that’s one place to start.