A record number of dog attacks was reported last month (March), leaving riders and equestrian organisations urging other victims to come forward and share their experiences.
Last month, 39 incidents involving dogs were reported to the British Horse Society (BHS) — three times higher than this time last year. The previous high was 29 in May 2014.
They involved attacks on horses loose in the field, being led, ridden and driven.
In one attack, three ponies were mauled to death by dogs in their paddock in the West Midlands. The police are investigating.
More than 850 incidents have been reported since the BHS site www.horseaccidents.org.uk was launched at the end of 2010.
In 2013 H&H reported that the number of dog attacks on horses had almost doubled in a year — and that figure is rising steadily.
After the new figures were released this week (30 March) the BHS told H&H that it will be monitoring the spike to establish whether it is the “beginning of a worrying trend”.
“We expect to see a higher number of reports during the spring, as with better weather and longer days people are able to enjoy spending more time out and about,” the BHS’ senior safety executive Sheila Hardy told H&H.
“However, this month’s figure is particularly high and raises questions as to why.
“It could be that people are getting better at reporting the incidents. We would hope that there is greater awareness among riders that improvements can only be made if we have the hard facts to take forward to those in power.”
‘People are getting away with it’
Lisa Dudley was riding her 12-year-old cob-type, Maggie, near her home in Woodcote, Berks, on 10 March when the pair was set upon.
“The owner was out with two dogs, who were off leads when they came up to me. She called and one went back to her, but the other — a German shepherd — wouldn’t listen and was quite aggressive,” she told H&H.
“Maggie was distressed and took off for about a mile. It was extremely scary, especially as I couldn’t pull her up. The dog stayed with us the whole way.”
Eventually they came to a stop, and Maggie was unhurt. The horse kicked out at the dog, which made it run off.
“I was so lucky not to come off, I can’t believe the owner didn’t do more to help,” she said.
Ms Dudley has reported it to the police and is waiting for a response.
“I’d encourage others to make a report, it’s not right that people are getting away with it,” she added.
Reader Veronika Weithoker contacted H&H after her husband Marcos and his cob Peaches were attacked in Hackney.
“Both horse and rider were very shaken,” she said. “Marcos came back to the riding centre, jumped on his bike, tracked the dog walker down and brought her back to the centre to speak to the rangers. She was invited to a free dog training day organised by Lee Valley park authorities.”
Appropriate punishment for dog owners
Changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act in May last year mean dog owners can be prosecuted
if their dog causes injury to a rider on public or private land, such as livery yards.
If prosecuted, owners could face a fine up to £20,000 and/or be sent to prison.
But riders and industry figures would like further changes in the law to tackle the growing problem. Currently prosecutions can only be brought if the dog harms the rider or puts them in fear of being injured.
“We would still like to see attacks against other animals be criminalised,” said Lee Hackett, BHS director of policy. “At present it is very difficult to take action if a dog attacks a horse. We do need more people to report incidents and even near misses. Without data we will never achieve changes in legislation.”
Last month (17 March) the Sentencing Council published new proposals for people convicted of dangerous dog offences.
New guidelines are being produced to reflect the changes to legislation and to provide updated guidance for judges and magistrates.
“There has been an increase in dangerous dog cases coming before the courts over the past 10 years and following the changes in the law, we are pleased that new guidelines are being introduced,” said Richard Monkhouse JP, chairman of the Magistrates Association.
“They will help magistrates decide on appropriate sentences and assist them in taking other actions necessary to keep the public safe.”
The consultation closes on 9 June and is open to everyone.
Sheila Hardy said the BHS welcomed this, but added: “We would be keen to see that factor amended to include ‘injury or distress to other animals’. As many riders will be aware, it doesn’t necessarily take an aggressive attack to cause a serious incident — a dog that is out of control and approaches a horse in play can still cause an horrific incident if the horse takes flight.”
Ref: H&H 2 April, 2015