Hands down the scariest thing that ever happened to me while riding was when my horse was chased by a dog. Although this happened more than 20 years ago, thinking about it still makes my heart palpitate!
At the time I was living in Pennsylvania and leased a young Hannovarian/TB gelding. He was probably about 5 when this happened. I knew he had some trail “issues” and phobias, but I’d been hacking him out without incident.
This particular day we were walking on the side of a paved road. A dog ran out from the front of a house and kept on coming. The gelding spooked then bolted. The dog kept right after us. In a matter of seconds we were galloping full tilt down a paved road with the dog in pursuit. Luckily, it was early on a weekend morning and there were no cars on the road. I didn’t want to try to pull him up because I was afraid he’d slip and go down; there simply wasn’t enough traction on the asphalt and we were galloping down hill and around a slight curve.
Finally we came to a place where the road was bordered by a field and I was able to ease him onto the grass where he stopped. Somewhere along our ride, the dog had turned back. The whole thing probably lasted less than five minutes but it sure felt like an eternity!
I got off my horse and my legs were shaking so badly I couldn’t stand. In fact, I sat down for a good long time stunned. The gelding just stood there with his head down. I guess he was as scared as I. That was the last time I ever rode that horse out onto the trails alone.
Since then, I’ve learned more about how to deal with a dog that wants to chase or attack a horse and rider. I’m not sure — given this particular horse’s fear issues — how I would have dealt with the situation but in general, here’s what I do now:
- If I pass a house where a dog is barking, I stop to see if it is going to come out. Many homes near me have an electric fence and the dog won’t leave the property.
- If I encounter an unaccompanied dog on the trail, or a dog follows me off his property, I turn my horse and face it. Most of the time I’ve found that if you face the dog (on horseback) and say “No!” the dog will back off.
If the dog keeps coming at us or tries to circle around, I will keep turning to face the dog and walk toward it. I’ve never had a dog that doesn’t back down at this point. I do know other people who were chased and I think that mostly it occurred when they let the dog get behind their horse.
- One thing you should never do is start to trot or canter away from the dog (like I did in the scenario above). This puts the dog “in control” of the situation and will encourage it to continue to chase you either as part of a game or because your horse is reacting like prey.
Most of the dogs I encounter out riding are not dangerous or bad. Many have never seen a horse before. They bark either because they want to play or because they are scared. By remaining calm you can help them stay calm too.