Ask Horse Journal: Dog Attacks on Horseback

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We're pretty much urban horsemen in our neighborhood but enjoy the use of 150 acres of as-yet undeveloped county woods to ride on. We share this land with walkers, bikers, illegal motorcyclists and people exercising their dogs.

Last week my neighbor was out riding when a young couple drove up and let out their dog to exercise. Their Rottweiler attacked my neighbor?s young horse. They were unable to call off their dog. After staying on as long as possible, my neighbor decided to bail. She was stepped on and injured in the melee. The horse ran home, able to outrun the dog, but suffered numerous slashes and puncture wounds.

I've spent a lot of time wondering what to do in a situation like this. You don't know if you jump off if the dog will attack you instead of the horse. My friend says sHe's going to get a gun and carry it. But even a great shot probably couldn?t get a clear shot at the dog without injuring the horse, and any gun in a high-traffic area is too dangerous.

I thought about pepper spray, but I don't know how close you would have to be for spray to be effective. I assume it also would affect the horse, and how can you get close enough to spray a dog attacking a horse in the flurry of hooves and teeth'

I just saw an advertisement for a battery powered Ultrasonic Dog Repeller for joggers. It clips on your belt. It emits high frequency ultrasound over a 20-foot range. Would this freak out a horse'

Horse Journal Response: ?Your best protection is in the training of your horse to listen to you even when He's freaked out ? yes, we know, easier said than done. We disagree with the gun idea. Legality and logistics issues aside, the rider would have to be experienced with firearms and the horse would have to be trained to stand quietly while the gun is fired ? not an easy thing to do. Basically, ?self-defense? measures only serve to distract you in a crisis situation and take away from your ability to control your horse.

One could carry a whip, but it takes a lot of skill and presence of mind to fend off an attack. It also again takes a horse trained to obey your signals despite the distraction of the whip and dog. Obviously, we wouldn?t expect that level of training in a young horse, such as your neighbor?s, but all riders should include in their training maintaining their horse's control and attention in horribly distracting situations.

However, as terrible as your neighbor?s situation was, it was an accident. For the most part, dogs don't ?immediately attack,? although tHere's always going to be a rare case. Mostly, dogs are trying to get close enough to smell and bark at the horse, and if the horse dances around or runs, the dogs are more than happy to enjoy the chase.

it's difficult to give anyone an absolute ?right way? to deal with a panicky horse. Some horses respond to firmness, some to a strong voice, and some are just so easily freaked out that anything you do only makes things worse.

However, if you just bail off, we think the chance is greater that the horse will get away ? likely with the dog chasing it ? than the chance that one of you might get bitten if you quietly dismount and calmly face the situation.

We would rather perform a calm, collected emergency dismount, reins in hand, and take our chances with a dog on the ground, especially if the dog owners are there.

In this situation, we suggest you alert the dog owners, dismount, pull the reins over the horse's head, and stand between the horse and the dog, trying to hold the dog off long enough for its owners to help. Most dog owners will try to pull their dog out of this situation. If you or your horse gets bit or scratched, get the names of the owners and proof that the dog?s rabies vaccine is valid and up-to-date. don't take any chances.

Stay alert for dogs when you're riding on trails, and don't take for granted that a dog owner has his animal under control or even realizes horses are approaching. Get the people?s attention before the dog sees the horse. When they walk their dogs, few people really pay attention to their dogs, and most will probably thank you for the heads-up.

As for the dog ?repellers,? it depends upon the frequency used. Horses do have good hearing in the higher frequencies, up to 25,000 cps, maybe higher. The only way to know for sure if it would bother your horse would be to try it ahead of time.

The bottom line is that your experience and skill level has to come into play as you determine what to do. Some people would be better off on the ground, while others should stay mounted. However, you should think ahead because this sort of thing does happen in the real world.