The unofficial guide for bringing your dog to horse shows

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The unofficial guide for bringing your dog to horse shows

See those lovely labradors in the photo?  You might think they belong to me.  They don’t.  They belong to the trailer parked next to me at a horse trial, and were tied up on a cable about 25 feet long.  Tied to the bumper of the truck, parked about 25 feet from my trailer.  Most of the morning, I didn’t see them (though I certainly heard the barking).  However, right as I was tacking up for show jumping, the dogs ran out past the rear of my horse trailer as another leashed dog walked by, stretching the cable to its full length…plenty long enough to wrap around my horse’s back legs and cause a horrific accident.

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Thankfully, my horse is used to dogs doing dog things, and remained half-asleep while they ran to and fro just a few feet from his hocks.  Bored with passersby, the dogs turned their friendly attention to me, and decided to make themselves at home near my trailer tack room.  The dogs’ owner was apparently riding, as no one was home at their horse trailer.  I gathered their mile-long tether and drug them back under their truck, where they went back to napping.  While no harm occurred in this instance, I was annoyed at the lack of concern and courtesy shown by the dogs’ owner.  Who ties their dogs out at a horse show on a 25-foot cable, when horse trailers are parked 15-20 feet apart?  (And THEY pulled in next to ME; I was there first, so it’s not like I encroached on their territory.)  I’m quite sure the owners were totally oblivious to any potential, unintended danger their dogs may have caused, but ignorance is no excuse.

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I’m a dog person.  I have a fantastic farm dog, who is wonderful with horses, dogs, cats, chickens, kids, just about anybody.  Rosie avoids conflict, comes when called, and is one of those dogs who just knows how to do the right thing.  However, I rarely bring her to events.  She hates being tied up, and has occasional anxiety when I go off on a horse without her.  She’s much happier being left at home.  I only take her to shows when I have no choice, such as an overnight venue for multiple days.  In that case, she is tied up when I’m present, and locked in a crate, stall or horse trailer when I have to ride or leave her unattended.  She’s one of those dogs you never notice– which is how horse show dogs SHOULD be.  She doesn’t bark, she doesn’t beg, she doesn’t pee on other people’s stuff, she doesn’t get in the way, she doesn’t acknowledge other dogs unless they aggressively invade her (leashed) space (you’d be surprised how often that happens with careless owners).

I’ve got a great dog– but that’s how EVERYBODY feels, regardless if their pet is wonderful or not.  It’s amazing to see how many people at horse shows feel the leash law doesn’t apply to them– “But Poopsie NEVER runs off!  Poopsie would never do anything bad” and yet I think we can all recognize many of the repeat offenders’ loose Poopsies who wander around at every. single. horse trial getting in trouble.  And then you have the dogs who *are* leashed, but still get in the way (like those labradors).  Long leashes get tangled or still allow the dog to cause problems (like peeing on my hay in front of my stall).  And then there are the dogs who turn aggressive on leashes, guarding their territory or protecting their owner, and instigate issues with other well-behaved dogs (or even bite people).  Let’s not even get started on the barkers…the ones who never shut up when the owner leaves, constant barking, whining, howling that makes stall neighbors want to strangle the lonely beast.

There are well-publicized incidents during competition, too– how many times has Buck been chased on course now?  I think most riders’ dogs are pretty good about not chasing horses, but that is the absolute worst sin a dog can commit at a show.  An even when they are under control, is it really necessary to bring your dog with you into the warm up ring to watch somebody?  Is it necessary to bring the dog to the competitors party, and let it sit on the table?  Or cause people to trip over it as they walk by with full plates of food?  Leave your dog in the barn, please, or tie it up out of the way while you stand in the food line.
 


 
If you’re a dog owner who wants to bring your dogs to shows, here’s what you can do to ensure a good experience for everyone:

1. LEASH YOUR DOG.  Always.  I know your Pookums is not the problem (sigh), but rules are rules: if you want others to abide by them, you should too.  It’s for the safety of horses, riders, and your own dog.  At some venues, it is still allowed to free-range your dog on the cross-country course…but you must have instant recall, and your dog must be 110% reliable with others.  I can call my dog off from a squirrel…can you?

2. TRAIN YOUR DOG.  You wouldn’t let your 1200lb horse drag you around, sniffing people’s crotches and eating their lunch, so why should your dog get away with it?  Dogs should walk kindly on a leash, know sit/stay, and be properly socialized among strangers, horses, and other dogs.  Aggressive behavior is not to be tolerated– if you can’t control it, leave the dog at home.  Work on separation anxiety at home…if he barks for hours when you leave him alone, please don’t bring him to a show and submit everybody else to his torture.

3. CONFINE YOUR DOG.  When you must leave the dog unattended, a crate or corral is often much better than a tether.  Lock him up in a stall or horse trailer, if you have to.  Tied-up dogs have an uncanny ability to get in the way, especially in really crowded stabling areas with narrow aisles.  If you must tie him, keep it short and be sure he cannot leave your stall or trailer territory.  Be sure his collar is snug, and have your contact info clearly visible in case the worst happens and he does get loose.

4.  TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR DOG.  Your dog is not a human, it will do dog things.  It will pee and poop in inappropriate places.  PLEASE clean up after it.  Don’t let your male dogs piss all over other people’s stuff.  If it poops where someone is likely to step in it (like XC galloping paths approaching a jump), clean it up.  I don’t want my shoes smelling like dog doo because your loose dog crapped on someone’s private property where we happen to be competing this weekend.  If your dog misbehaves or makes a mistake (chewing on my horse’s leather halter?!), own up to it and take steps to rectify the problem.  This should be self-explanatory, but common courtesy ain’t so common anymore.

5. WHEN IN DOUBT, LEAVE THE DOG AT HOME.  If your dog cannot be a great canine citizen, if it calls negative attention to itself on a regular basis, it does NOT belong at a horse show.  I like dogs to be unnoticed– quiet, blending into the landscape, giving their owners joy and pleasure, but not at the expense of anyone else’s experience (who paid just as much to compete their horse).  If I want to come pet your cute dog, I’ll approach you and ask.  I don’t want to ban dogs from horse shows–which due to irresponsible owners, is increasingly likely.  Dog owners, please do your part and be conscientious of others, and show respect by ensuring your dog doesn’t cause someone else to have a bad weekend.

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