Horse & Hound spoke to a solicitor specialising in equine matters, the British Horse Society and Defra to find out where riders stand if they find themselves involved in an incident with an out-of-control dog...
A number of recent episodes involving out-of-control dogs have highlighted that individual police forces have discretion on how to deal with incidents under current legislation.
The British Horse Society (BHS) recorded 168 incidents involving dogs in 2019, including three horse fatalities, 45 horses injured and 43 humans. Sixteen incidents were recorded in January 2020.
Solicitor Ian Dexter of HorseSolicitor told H&H the law is clear that dog owners to have to keep their animals under close control.“The difficulty is, different forces have discretion to prioritise offences and there is no uniform approach,” he said.
Mr Dexter said it is helpful if owners have a witness or video footage of incidents, and added if a case is not prosecuted, owners can make a civil claim for vet fees.
“If it’s their word against another it’s going to be difficult because prosecution will only be considered if there is a realistic prospect [of conviction],” he said.
“People should remember they are entitled to report any incidents to police and they should be taken seriously.”
Gemma Colling’s gelding Rocky was forced into the sea in Scarborough on 13 January when a dog attacked. She reported the incident to police and the dog warden but said the warden advised her all they can do is educate people.
A spokesman for Defra told H&H it is a criminal offence to allow a dog to be dangerously out of control.
“It is for a court to decide whether a particular dog is out of control based on individual circumstances,” he said.
“This can lead to a prison sentence or a disqualification order.”
The spokesman added that decisions about allocation of police resources and deployment of officers are made by chief constables and democratically accountable with police and crime commissioners.
A BHS spokesman said: “It’s important owners keep dogs under control, ideally on a lead, near horses.
“We all have a responsibility to report any incidents to police so they can enforce section three of the Dangerous Dog Act 1991. Should the worst happen, and you are attacked while riding, try to remain calm and protect young or vulnerable riders if you’re able to. Keep the horse’s head away from the dog and allow the horse to defend itself, you may even have to distance yourself from the dog by riding away.
“The BHS recommends always carrying a mobile phone when riding so you can summon help and make note of any identifying details of dog or owner. Afterwards, take details from the dog owner in case there is need to follow up the incident and always report any incidents to the police, asking them to refer it to the dog legislation officer.
“We always encourage riders to report any incidents to horseaccidents.org.uk as this allows us to have greater understanding of the scale of the issue. This data also allows us to lobby and support government and local authorities, as well as creating awareness of issues and educating the public.”
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