Let’s Discuss: Dogs at Horse Shows

Let’s start off the week with a little sizzle, shall we?? Because this is sure to be a heated conversation.

I may be a dog lover, but in many ways I wish most folks would leave man’s best friend at home. In my opinion, many of the dogs seen at horse shows really shouldn’t be there. Unless you as a responsible pet owner, and your perfect pooch can meet the following criteria, I say leave them at home.

We’ll start with the obvious: Is your dog acclimated to horses?
And not just well behaved, half-dead ponies. But does Pongo handle baby antics, horses spooking in their direction, galloping by their faces, or snorting/bucking/farting right in front of their eyeballs with quiet aplomb? If Fido shows any interest in joining the melee that is any Beginner Novice warm-up (much less a big event), he should stay behind.

Any dog that gets excited about giant animals running around, and may be inclined to bark at them or give chase is NOT an appropriate horse show dog. And personally, I don’t appreciate being part of your pet’s social experiment when I, and any other rider, has put goodness knows how many hours of work, and probably even more money, in getting ready for our outing. I paid for my right to be there, and I expect to be able to give my horse a safe and positive outing; despite what is often taken for granted, dogs do not have an inherent right to be at horse shows.

If you are working an event or horse show, please leave Fido at home. And if you are a jump judge on the cross country, seriously- why? The number of judges I have seen bring their pooch to sit with them on XC is staggering, and truthfully, completely inappropriate. For one, unless you can guarantee (and you can’t) that your dog will not be a distraction to either yourself (who is there to act as steward of the sport, making sure that each pair passes safely through and being on hand in case an accident happens- which how will you be able to react quickly should a rider fall at your fence when you have a dog to be responsible for? Do you let go of the leash? Or what?) OR a distraction to the horse (which is hopefully not dog-averse, totally focused on the job at hand and won’t notice the furry creature doing God knows what some feet from the fence)… Just don’t. And if you bring a dog that is known to bark at horses (or other dogs, or humans, or invisible pixies living in the woods), shame on you if you bring a dog to jump judge with you. Take a look at this video and tell me that doesn’t inflame your senses.

Now let’s look at you, responsible owner that you are. Can you hold a leash? Great. Assuming that you are the greatest leash-holder ever and will basically be cabled to Miss Princess the entire show, let’s go over a couple other requisite skills. Have you taught your dog sit/stay/shut up? Have you socialized your dog with other dogs before coming? Are you willing to make amends to your schedule should it not suit your pup’s abilities? Or will your dog be one of many that end up being mentioned over the loudspeaker at Rolex, because it got loose/got left in a hot car/got overheated because your bassett hound couldn’t keep up with Boyd Martin on the course walk.

There are those that are willing to meet all of these requirements, and have a full understanding of how their dog can be just another respectful spectator at a horse show competition. And for those folks, power to you. I’m glad that you will do what it takes to be a good horseperson and do what you can to keep the show as safe [as possible] for the rest of us. Horses and dogs can be together in a busy competition environment if approached responsibly, and I wouldn’t want to be the person to deny the better-behaving people [and dogs] that right.

How do you feel? Do dogs have a spot at horse shows? How should dog owners approach bringing their dogs to a competition, and what rules (or not) should be in place to keep everyone safe?

26 thoughts on “Let’s Discuss: Dogs at Horse Shows

  1. Agree with everything said. I am one of those that does bring their dog to events, but they are never near competition in any form, and have all of the stated manners. And if I don’t think they will be comfortable at that particular event, they don’t come. Especially the mastiff, as he gets overheated quite easily.

    The other point to bring up is also the manners and control of the dogs in the trailer/camp/stable areas of the show. I could not believe how many dogs were running around loose while I was at Rebecca in these areas. There were dogs getting into our food at camp, peeing on our hay/tack trunks/tent, and trying to attack my Great Dane and friend’s dogs while they were secured in their pen. Not to mention owners not picking up after them, and one lady even got super offended when we chased her dogs out of her camp. But smart with your dogs, don’t be an asshole.

  2. I don’t take mine with me because I honestly don’t want to be tethered to them in the heat all day. I think quiet dogs that can be left in the tack stall/in the shade by the trailer QUIETLY at the barn are fine, but I don’t like them being near competition. If you know your dog with bark incessantly once you’re out of sight, leave him at home…this is an expensive hobby to have to listen to someone’s dog barking throughout the day while you’re prepping, etc.

  3. To me, there’s a big difference at an event and a h/j show just with how they’re run and the environment. I can’t say if I’d bring my dog to an event, because I haven’t really shown at one often. To me, the biggest concern would be for my dog being too hot/tired out in the sun with no access to water. Both of mine are super used to horses and good on leash, but I don’t know if hoofing around XC at Rolex with a dog in tow would be the fairest decision for my animals.

    For H/J shows, I have to bring them out of necessity. If you’re single, own dogs and are on a budget… dogs come to horse shows. Mine have a pen that I set up near the barns. They stay in it while I’m riding, watching or tending to my horse. I’ll take them out for walks a few times a day, and make sure they have water… but mostly they have to sit in the pen and behave themselves. It’s not a perfect scenario, and I’ve made mistakes as a dog owner. They will bark sometimes at dogs passing by on leash, but my barn is full of dog lovers that are quick to offer a “No! Quiet!” which my dogs listen to. I’ve had them on leash by the rings before, and even though they’re REALLY well behaved… they’ve done the occasional bark during someone’s course. I don’t sit with them by the rings anymore because of that.

    So no, it’s not perfect to bring them but it’s the only way I can do weekend away shows. A lot of the working ammies are in the same boat, and I’ve never had a problem from people complaining to me or what not. I’ve also never let my dog get loose and chase a horse down a cross country course soooo….

  4. I don’t compete (yet), so my experience there is non-existent. I think in theory, I’d like to be able to have my dogs in the vicinity of stables while I’m around, but definitely not near the actual showing. I don’t need additional distractions when I’m simply trying not to die. …which is another valid reason that I might never bring them, anyways.

    Before I even brought them to the barn, I checked with all of my barnmates and made sure that they were okay with the idea. I didn’t want to overstep any boundaries just for the luxury of having them with me. From their behaviors at the barn, I think they’d be good show dogs, but I think I would test that in a controlled environment, where I wouldn’t be riding at all and could shove them into the car and leave if they became obnoxious.

  5. I’d like for Kona to eventually be able to come to H/J shows… but right now she has to have a dedicated person to take care of her. It’s nice, because most of our shows are close to home so she can come up for a few hours and then go home.

  6. Well-behaved, obedient, quiet dogs in the barn area? Absolutely. Totally into it. But dear lord please nowhere near the rings, and please don’t let your dog wander into our feed stall. I really won’t feel bad when my horse’s supplements make your dog puke green.

  7. I don’t mind seeing dogs at events. Of course, I want to see them under control at all times. I understand dogs should have prior socialization with horses but in the same breath, my horses have been exposed to barking dogs and such, so I don’t have much to worry about in the sense of barking bothering them.

  8. We just started bringing our dog to events this year and it has actually made me more aware/annoyed with dog owners that bring their dogs to horse shows. Our dog only attends when my husband is there, so there is a 1:1 person to animal ratio (horse for me, dog for him). The dog is 100% leashed AND the leash is either attached to a human or tied somewhere (in our stall, to our trailer, etc – basically out of anyone’s way). I like that I’ve started to see signs/notices that a leash must be attached to a human, because too many people followed the leash rule but then let their dog run loose on it. We keep our horses at home, so the dog is absolutely accustomed to horses and does not bark, bite, startle, etc around them. I understand that there is a cost to having to find a pet sitter or board your dog, but I have seen far too many mean, poorly behaved, or loose dogs at shows and it is not fair to the competitors. If our dog did not have the demeanor or behavior to attend the shows, she would be left at home. Period. I really do enjoy having my dog at shows – she LOVES to walk the cross country course/jump the jumps (NOT when anyone is on course and always on a leash!) and probably plays a part in settling my nerves – but I do think poorly behaved dogs are ruining it for others.

  9. Still picking my jaw up off the floor over the fact that jump judges can have their dogs with them at the jumps??? Like, what?

    I haven’t noticed too much of a problem with dogs at h/j shows, but there are pretty strict leash rules at various shows that result in heavy fines if a dog is caught off leash. Supposedly. Personally, I would not bring my dog to a show. He is an indoor lap dog that needs ALL the attention when I am around him. And he barks at horses. I think he would have a heart attack if he saw me near or on a horse.

  10. I brought my dogs to shows with me for a long time simply because I could not leave them at home. We had nowhere to leave them all day and no one who could come let them out a few times. They’re the perfect pooches though. They lay quietly under the truck even when left alone (receiving lots of compliments from trailer neighbors), they’re dog, horse, and people friendly, and they’re very polite on the leash. That said, now that we have a fence and our garage connects to our backyard with a doggie door, I don’t bring them with me anymore. They’re one less thing for me or Hubby to have to focus on, and they’re just as happy lazing about at home as they are at shows. I don’t mind other people bringing their dogs, but they’ve really got to be as perfect as mine not to annoy me. I’ve never had a horse react to a barking, straining at the leash psycho, but it definitely gets to me. #controlyourdog

  11. Totally agree with your entire post. May I take it one step further and request if dogs do not have the above noted manners, to please walk them on a leash EVERYWHERE? I’ve lost track of how many near misses we’ve had with loose/out of control dogs on the trails chasing/jumping at the horses. I think people assume trail = dog freedom time, but really, they need to be good with everyone else sharing the trail.

    • Yes, please! If you can’t control them on a leash, they definitely should not be OFF a leash!

      Also, don’t say your dog is friendly, if it isn’t. Don’t let your dog get in my dog’s face at the end of its leash without previously asking if they can say hi, whether they are friendly or not, this causes problems. I’ve had several “oh, s/he is really friendly” dogs snap at my 2 so now I just cross the street to avoid it altogether. My plott hound is skittish enough that I don’t need someone else’s jerk spooking her any more than life already does!

  12. Totally agree! I have not had any traumatic dog experiences at shows, thankfully, but I do roll my eyes at people who have dogs that don’t have the manners/training. That said, two of my barn friends have excellently trained dogs who come/sit/lay down/stay and quietly hang out in the shade or in the tack stall. It can be done in a way that’s safe and fun for everyone, as long as the owners understand they are there for a HORSE show and the dogs come quite low on the priority list.

  13. Agree with everything above, but just need to add: if you’re jump judging you do NOT need to have a dog with you. You cannot be 100% focused and as a jump judge, you are responsible for the safety of the course, horse and rider around your jump and it’s just entirely unacceptable to have a dog there. I don’t care if they are the most half-dead, docile thing ever, just by being there they create additional risk to themselves, to you, and to the horse/rider pairs. Leave them at home.

  14. I take my dogs to events. They’re not perfect (they bark at other dogs, but couldn’t care less about horses), but they’re never off a leash/in a crate and they are never near the competition (they stay by the trailer). So I don’t mind people bringing dogs to shows. However, loose dogs annoy me. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve gone to events with Nilla and people have loose dogs and are like, oh it won’t bother your horses. Well, that’s fine in theory, but the mule will KILL loose dogs if they come near her. The dog who is just sniffing nearby and all the normal horses don’t care, I have seen her lunge at. So I constantly have to go and find owners and tell them to leash their dogs. And I always get attitude like I’m being anti-dog. I love dogs, My own stupid dogs are usually with me. I just want your dog to not die.

  15. I don’t see a problem with dogs at shows (or bars, festivals, patios, parks, sidewalks, etc). However, I do think we as a culture need to be more willing abs empowered to comment on, discourage and remove inappropriate dog behavior in public. It’s not my dog’s fault Sally Gotoshows with the lunging and slavering poodle mix can’t train or control her dog. She needs to leave and we need to hold her and those like her responsible, not all dog owners as a whole. If you do not make such a distinction you lose spectators and volunteers. I, for one, would be much less able to attend shows and events without my dog.

  16. OH MY GOD! You read my mind. I HATE when people bring their dogs places. And people seem to bring their dogs everywhere! I love animals. Like a ridiculous amount. All animals. I love dogs and am very sad that I cannot have one right this moment. But in my experience, the people who are going to bring their dogs out are also the people who have zero idea of what a well-behaved dog is. They are the ones that go “Oh no Fifi, don’t bark.” at their 1.5 lb large rat on the end of the line without actually grabbing the dog. They are the ones that will allow their dog to aggressively bark and snap at the ankles of everyone around them. It drives me nuts.

    Now, to be fair, there are a great many good dog owners out there but you never see them because SURPRISE their dogs are well behaved and do not draw attention to themselves by being a nuisance.

    In the specifics of horse events, I agree with everything you have said. It’s extremely exciting to watch large animals running and most breeds are working dogs so they end up reverting to instincts. I have less problem with people watching from on a hill overlooking an arena. Something as intense as a cross country run, just don’t bring the dog.

  17. At a dressage show last year I had a dog decide to join me in the court during a test. The facility owner is quite strict that no outside dogs are allowed, but in this case, it was her dog 🙈 it didn’t necessarily bother my horse much (she’s used to dogs), but it did frustrate me a little bit, because not only was it incredibly distracting, but I had to figure out how to best navigate around it while staying on course.

    None of my dogs go to horse shows because they’re obnoxious beasties with no manners 😂

  18. Not a fan of dogs at horse shows. I have 2 very well-behaved dogs, but I don’t bring them to the barn and I don’t bring them to shows. Like horses, dogs can be unpredictable, and sorry to the dog-owners out there, but at barns and horse shows, horses are the priority. My horse (surprisingly) is fine with dogs, but I’ve been to multiple shows where a dog has ruined someone’s ride and it’s completely unfair.

  19. Such a good topic – I’m loving reading these opinions. As someone who owned a dog-aggressive horse, this is pretty set in stone for me. I have no issues with well controlled, well trained dogs…but if your dog is loose or aggressive – you have to go. Someone or something will get hurt 😦 Sorry, not sorry. If I can take the time to teach my toddler to not scream at horses, then you can take the time to hold a leash. It’s all about respect and safety.

  20. Absolute PET HATE is poorly behaved dogs at shows!

    The worst part though is when you’re responsible for telling someone to remove the dog due to behaviour and then they get offended like it is you who is being unreasonable?

    Terrible sportsmanship!

  21. I don’t think dogs should be allowed at events 90% of the time. There are dogs who are mannered enough but most aren’t.

    Example…. My sister is a professional barrel racer, lots of rodeo people travel with dogs for companion and safety. Most of those dogs are well versed, rodeo pros. We were at a rodeo and had a security guards dog come and attack my sisters dog … my sister and I are both prego, she trapped the dog with her legs and I grabbed her dog, a kind stranger grabbed the other dog and we hightailed it out of there. The owner didn’t even apologize or secure the dog…. it came after us AGAIN!! Thankfully I saw it coming, my sisters dog is smaller and we sandwiched her between us and hid her. Again no owner in sight to handle her dog.

    This was AT a rodeo with thousands of people and kids and animals… not cool!

  22. I never take my dog when I’m there competing, or when I’m helping out others who are doing so. It’s distracting to me if I’m riding, and if I’m worrying about the dog then I’m not giving those I’m helping my full attention, and that’s not fair to them.

    She’s been to a show twice in the five years I’ve had her, and both times I was a spectator. The first was a “fun show” to benefit the USERL, and her rescue was there, so I wanted them to get to see her before I left the area. The second was at a spacious 3 day event venue, and I was spectating from a far, not associated with any barn. She is super well behaved, doesn’t bark basically ever, and shuts up straight away if she starts & I tell her to. She’s also good around horses. We stayed away from highly congested horse areas, and she was attached to me via a leash at all times.

    To sum up – generally speaking I think dogs need to stay home. if you can’t afford to compete and care for your dog at the same time, don’t compete. If you’re spectating, not directly involved in any horse related activities (i.e judging, WTF is up with that?!!!, or helping out friends/barn mates), and your dog is well behaved (according to others, not just you), then fine, but proceed with extreme caution and respect for those who have put lots of time and effort into, and paid lots of money, to compete there.

  23. I think dogs should be allowed at horse shows, but it is up to the owner to ensure their dog is properly trained and the owner should be held accountable if their dog is not trained.

    If dogs get loose and interfere with the competition the owner should be possibly fined when it comes to serious competitions, especially competitions like Rolex as the riders have spent a lot of money to get to that level of competition therefore if the dog does something like the above videos and chases the rider along the course those riders deserve to be compensated. Just thinking about how much time, effort and money rider put in to making sure their horse is in top condition to compete a stupid little think like someone not holding on to a lead messes that up for them. I think something as serious as a fine would make dog owners seriously think about how they handle their dogs at these competitions.

    Personally I do want to have dogs in the future but I will not tolerate an untrained dog, they live in your house, how can you not have them trained and if you can’t put the time in to train them, why do you have a dog? Overall I think we have domesticated these animals so we are responsible for them therefore an untrained dog is laziness… phew sorry rant over 🙂

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