Have you ever come across a dog while out on the trail with your horse? While most dogs are fine around horses, there are dogs which will attack horses, either out of fear or aggression. Be sure that you’re familiar with these tips for when you encounter dogs while trail riding.
The worst thing that you can do is to instantly tense up every time that you see a dog. Your horse will be aware that you are fearful, and will start to react in the same way. Remember that many dogs are fine around horses, and that tensing up won’t help you in case your horse spooks. Take a deep breath, stay calm, and assess the situation to decide what to do next.
Communicate with the Owner
If the dog is accompanied by an owner, halt your horse and call out to the owner. Be polite, but ask the owner to leash the dog if the dog is not already leashed. Ask the owner if the dog has met horses before, and request that they hold the dog and stand well off the path while you pass. It’s often safest to dismount and lead your horse past, unless your horse is confident around dogs.
Avoid the Situation
If you encounter a dog and no owner is present, then look for a way to avoid the situation. Some dogs may appear harmless but you can never tell how they’ll react to a horse. If there’s a way to backtrack and take another trail, then it may be a wise idea.
In the event of a dog attack, your priority needs to be defending yourself. If your horse is spooking it may be a safer option to dismount, unless you anticipate the dog attacking you as well. Driving your horse after a dog may help to break up the fight, and most horses will kick at an attacking dog out of instinct. If you’re in a public area, shouting for help may bring assistance.
If you have reason to believe that you may encounter aggressive dogs out on the trail, there are a few things that you can do to prepare for the encounter. You may wish to become licensed to carry pepper spray, which you could use to fend off an attacking dog. Be sure to practice aiming and shooting the pepper spray ahead of time, and realize that your horse may be spooked by the sound.
Some riders teach their horses to charge at dogs. Often the sight of a horse bearing down on him will send a dog running in fear. This training can backfire if you have dogs around the barn; your horse may transfer the lesson to all dogs.
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When you encounter dogs on the trail, it’s best to get the situation quickly under control or avoid a confrontation. Remember, your goal should be to keep yourself safe first, then worry about your horse.