Dog debate reopens after rider fall at top-level event

  • A high-profile incident at a five-star event has re-opened debate over dogs at events.

    Tokyo Olympic team gold and individual silver medallist Tom McEwen and his ride Bob Chaplin, who was making his five-star debut, were on the final approach to the corner at 29a (Kombination “Close to Home”) at Luhmühlen Horse Trials (18 June), when a dog on an extendable lead ran on to the track (report, 23 June).

    “This is why I hate extendable leads,” Tom told H&H, adding that his first thoughts were for the horse’s wellbeing. “Bob had been an absolute star. He had grown in confidence as he went round and he was jumping really well. He was cruising round, I wasn’t worried about the time, it was more for me about the jumping.

    “I found my line to the corner and then I could hear the extendable lead extending, with this lady screaming at a dog. Sadly the line is so tight, the dog came from Bob’s right side so it pushed him further out left, and that put him into the corner.

    “Horses at that point in the course are tired and they are also unbelievably honest and love what they are doing. Bob, being Bob, went, ‘I can do it,’ and just jumped in. Sadly for him we went into the widest part of the corner all because a dog came in and popped him off his line.”

    The horse stayed on his feet, but Tom was unseated. The incident sparked hundreds of comments online about dogs at events, including extendable leads, and where the answer lies in preventing incidents such as this from happening in future.

    Luhmühlen show director Julia Otto told H&H the fixture is looking at new ways of getting the message across.

    “At first I’d like to say that I‘m very sorry for Tom McEwen. It must be extremely frustrating to do so well and then have a fall at the end of the course,” she said.

    “Our stadium speakers continuously remind spectators to keep dogs on leads at all times. Owners of loose dogs are fined. They have to donate €250 [£215] to charity. Extendable leads, if broken or used carelessly, pose a potential risk, not only for competitors but also for other dogs, spectators and even for the dogs themselves.

    “But not only extendable leads, we have also seen spectators standing on the leads while chatting to friends and enjoying a drink, which is not safe either.”

    She added: “We’re not going to ban dogs from the event and we can’t ban extendable leads but we will try to sensitise our spectators by asking them to use suitable and safe leads.

    “One idea is also to produce a video this autumn to sensitise [educate] the crowd, which we hope will get more attention and to play it out for the duration of the event to receive a greater awareness and to underline the speaker announcements.

    “On top of that we have a great contact with a hound kennel who is local and they want to support our event too. They have great ideas to support us and spectators with dogs during the event, especially on cross-country day.”

    Dogs at international events are covered under FEI rules.

    “The FEI has a clear rule regarding dogs at events, which states: If allowed at the event, all dogs must be leashed and affixed to a human or stationary object. Violation of this rule will incur a fine of CHF100 [£85] per offence and, in case of a repeated offence at the event, may lead to exclusion from the venue,” and FEI spokesman told H&H.

    “The purpose of this rule is specifically to ensure dogs are kept under control and do not disrupt competition or create an unsafe environment for participants and individuals attending the event.

    “We expect the dog owner or person ‘in charge of the dog’ at an event to be fully responsible for their dog’s behaviour in public and to respect [the rule].

    “It is also important to highlight that individual events can have their own more strict rules on dogs such as a rule excluding dogs from the venue entirely or stricter rules for certain parts of the venue such as the cross-country course.”

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