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Horse Riding with Your Dog

Taking your dog when horse riding can be brilliant, or a bit of a mare. Clipit provides you some great valuable advice to make it safe and fun for all of you to enjoy.

The sun is shining, you're riding your horse, and your dog is running alongside, both excited to be with. What a great amazing feeling, two opposite behaviours - canine predator, an equine that takes flight, and the last thing they'll do is listen to you. So how do you control the situation, sat up above and looking down on both?

People who have horses, have dogs. But what if you have a new puppy or an older dog you want to introduce, or a young horse who's never seen dogs before or even one who's scared of them? You employ a slow process of habituation - in other words, gradually get them used to each other.

Introducing each other

Dog to Horse

Use a calm horse who is experienced with dogs it you're introducing a young puppy, and enlist a friend for help.

  1. Make sure your dog is well-exercised and focused on you. Take him for a walk and then do some obedience work with him before you start his introduction to horses. You want your dog to be calm, so use treats and reward.

  2. Have an assistant stand with your horse in a bridle in-hand or mounted, in a paddock or arena with rails to act as a barrier.

  3. With your dog on a collar or harness and lead, approach the arena, but ask him to sit or lie down when you're still a good distance away from your horse and reward him when he focuses on you.

  4. If he looks from your horse to you, that's great - reward him. It's fine for him to be interested, but he should not be excited and should be more interested in you. If het gets over-excited or too interested - he may stare at your horse - move further away until his focus is on you.

  5. Once you have your dog's focus and he's not too excited, move a few steps closer to your horse, then ask him to sit and reward him when he focuses on you.

  6. Carry on in this way, but don't rush and don't train for too long - 10 to 15 minutes is plenty. Finish your first session with everyone calm and your dog thinking the canine equivalent of, "Its just a horse, Mum is much more interesting".

Horse to Dog

Use a sensible, equine-friendly dog with your young or inexperienced horse and a friend who can handle the dog well.

  1. Before you start your dog familiarisation training session, school your horse so he's not fresh, concentrating and really listening to you. You can do this training while riding if you feel comfortable and in control, or with your horse in-hand, on the lunge or in long reins if you feel that will be safer. A pocketful of fodd is also very handy with a horse whose attention you need to capture - just a couple of high-fibre nuts will distract most horses from moderately distracting or scary things.

  2. Introduce the dog, again with rails in between them. Carry on schooling your horse, at walk preferably, circling at the end furthest away from the dog and giving him lots to think about, such as transitions and turns to keep his focus on you.

  3. -When your horse is happy with the dog outside the fence, ask the handler to bring him inside and stay absolutely still. Circle at the opposite end then gradually move the edge of the circle closer - your horse should not react. If he does, take him further away to a distance, he's comfortable with and finish on a good note.

Dog and woman running
Practice running with your dog before you hack

To accompany you on rides safely, it is a good idea to practise jogging, running or cycling with him before you hack, so he gets used to accompanying you at a higher speed off the lead, rather than being excited by the movement. It will also let you practise training your dog without having to worry about your horse at the same time.

For the first time, ask a friend to come along with your dog on a loose lead alongside you and your horse. Talk to him from your horse, praise him for being calm and reward him when he obeys your commands. Carry on doing this, gradually going for longer rides until you feel confident you can control your dog alone. When you venture out, try and stay on a quiet road and pop a hi-viz collar or lightweight coat on him. LED collars are available to ensure he is easily visible.

Clipit Top Tip: Always carry a lead rope and dog lead when out hacking with your dog. It's much easier to lead your horse by a rope than reins, especially if you need to hold onto your dog.

Always carry a lead rope and dog lead when out with your dog

Worse Case Scenarios

What should you do if a scary or over-excited dog comes at you and your dog out hacking?

Stay as calm as you can. If you panic and seem frightened, your horse and your dog will pick up on it and get more worried or excited. Slow down your pace and hopefully the owner will gain control of the dog, then wait until he's back on the lead before you pass.

If you have dogs, young riders of horses with you, move between them and the scary dog. Talk to an aggressive or excited dog in a firm but calm way. Don't try to outrun it - fast movement activates a dog's chase instinct and you may trigger a grab or bite. It's better to wait for the owner to arrive or for the dog to lose interest, which will probably happen after a while.

Wear hi-viz so dog owners can see you coming from further away

If you hack with your dog and horse we would love to hear your stories in the comments box.

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