It’s one of the great joys in life to head out for a ride with your beloved dog in tow. Alas, it’s the preserve of the lucky few who have access to private land or large off-road areas where their dog can run freely. Riding your horse with a dog off the lead is not simply a matter of trying it out and seeing if it works. You need to put in hours of training, for horse, dog and handler, until you are ready to head out together safely.
Dog trainer and behaviourist Helen Masters, who hacks out with her beautifully trained dogs beside her horse, takes a step-by-step approach.
“Introduce the dog and horse in the yard, so they become used to each other’s presence. Next get someone to walk the dog with you while you hack and – if you are lucky enough to have a school — to stand in the manège with the dog on lead while the horse is worked in all gaits.
“Once the dog seems unfazed, you can then see if it maintains the same demeanour off the lead while the horse is worked in the manège. Mine either go out and mooch around nearby or sit in the middle of the school. If you have access to private land, then the same thesis applies.
“If it is your own dog, you should have put in the time to teach a recall and the dog will invariably follow you anyway. If the dog is not reliable with recall and following you and runs off to hunt or go into bushes to do their own thing, then until the dog is trained to come when called it would not be sensible to try riding out with it.”
Becoming separated from your dog is much more alarming when you are mounted, as you are not as free to track it down.
“Sometimes the dog may spook and bolt, head back to where your lorry is parked or back home if you have your own land to ride around,” says Helen. “Dogs invariably go back to the place they know and feel safe, which will either be back home or the lorry. It is always a good idea to have one of the best GPS trackers for dogs just in case they don’t do either of these things. Tractive is great and you get real time location.
“Always tell someone where you are going to ride if you are taking the dog and an approximate time of how long you will be.”
Your Horsemanship trainer Jason Webb says it’s essential that your dog is progressively introduced to horses, for both species’ sake.
“Have your dog on the lead or tied up on the yard while your horse is tied up, or walk your dog on a lead next to, or through, their field,” he advises. ‘“Make sure you have good control of your dog before you let him loose around your horse on the yard and the field. I have our dogs loose on the yard and they get in and around the young horses and run around the arena – the horses get used to them really quickly.”
Case study: Inca – “I can trust her implicitly”
Dan Gregory’s nine-year-old German Short-haired Pointer/Weimaraner, Inca, loves nothing more than a “hoolie with the horses”. When Dan was training for three-day events, Inca would do the hill reps in canter alongside his horse Archie.
“She is the type of breed that can go all day and has both the legs and the stamina,” says Dan, a joint-master of the Staff College Drag Hunt. “She loves it so much that as soon as we arrive at the yard, she’s yipping and yapping so I don’t forget to take her, she’s itching to go out.”
But Dan trained her meticulously so that he knew that even once aboard Archie, he had complete control of his dog.
“I wouldn’t do it if you haven’t got a dog you can trust implicitly, because you add another layer of complexity given that your ability to do something, if there’s a situation, is compromised because you are on the back of a horse,” Dan says.
“The basis of her education was gundog training and I was black and white with the obedience. I trained her with the whistle, and taught her to sit on command if I blew one long blast. This is really useful if she’s ahead of me and a situation develops, as I can get her to sit from afar. A good dog training whistle, like an Acme gundog whistle, has the benefit that it carries much further than me whistling.
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This whistle has an ultra-high pitch that is more easily heard by dogs’ ears. It gives a solid tone at a single high frequency so that it has the same effect whoever uses it.
“There was an element of progression. Once she knew ‘heel’ off the lead, I would cycle round on a bike, in an area where I could control her easily. When that went well, I took her out for a ride in an area with lots of space, no roads, and taught her to understand about heel to my horse. I should say the horse is ideal because he’s used to going out with hounds.
“We give Inca a lot of free rein now, and let her run, but with a lot of recall too, making her walk to heel and then releasing as a reward.”
Dan adds that the breed is important. He’d advise taking a dog that really loves long, fast outings and has the stamina to keep up and enjoy themselves.
“While pointers are known as ‘horizon dogs’, Weimaraners are quite needy which has worked in our favour. In the early days if she was getting a bit free-roaming, I would hide and she’d want to know where I was.”
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