Top dog: which types of dog does the horse world prefer? *H&H Plus*

  • From bulldogs going schooling to whippets chasing the racehorses up the gallops, there is no end of tricks a yard dog can get up to. Camilla Swift tracks down a few characters from across the country

    It is a truth universally acknowledged that where there are horses, there will be dogs not far away. Well, perhaps that’s not exactly how the quote goes. But it’s certainly true. Horses and hounds – as the title of this magazine suggests – go hand in hand.

    But are there certain breeds that horsey types are more drawn to? As with everything, the fashions change.

    “Border terriers used to be the must-have eventing dog, but you don’t see quite so many now,” says Rebecca Harvie, who runs Munstead Horse Trials near Godalming, Surrey. “Dachshunds – mini and standard – seem to be the trendy dog now. Labs are still quite popular, as are Weimaraners, vizslas and ridgebacks. We also see quite a lot of tiny dogs and masses of poodle crosses – but the poodle crosses seem to be more with the spectators than the competitors.”

    Dachshunds and terriers of all types do have a distinct advantage if you’re on the road a lot, as many horsey people are: their size.

    “I’ve always had Jack Russells; they’re handy as they’re a good size for shows and clean in the truck, as they’re short haired”, explains eventer Zac Heydon. “Jack Russells used to be the most popular dog at events, but nowadays you see all sorts.”

    Speaking of “all sorts” takes us to the Fox-Pitts’ yard, where both William and his wife, racing presenter Alice Plunkett, have traditionally had lurchers. However, three years ago, as she was arriving at Aintree to cover the Grand National for ITV, she received a call from her husband.

    “Will rang me, and said, ‘The children have seen an advert for some puppies in the hunt magazine, can we get one?’” she recalls. “I said, ‘What are you talking about? The children are two and four – of course they haven’t been reading a magazine!’

    “I was just driving into Aintree for one of the biggest days of the year for me, so I wasn’t quite paying attention. What had really happened was that Will had already bought one of these puppies and had it at home, but wanted me to say that we could get one.”

    The puppy in question was Dizzy, a Jackahuahua – a Jack Russell cross Chihuahua.

    “She does get a few raised eyebrows when she comes to shows as she isn’t your classic pedigree,” Alice continues. “But she goes to bed with the girls and comes out riding with me – she’s very cool.”

    The Fox-Pitts also have a Labrador, Tilly, whom they bought for their second son from Sam Albert.

    “We gave Sam a puppy as her wedding present 25 years ago, so it made sense to get one from her,” Alice says.

    Tilly herself had puppies last year – “over the Burghley weekend, which wasn’t the best timing” – which have all gone to eventing and racing homes, including one to trainer Paul Nicholls.

    It’s interesting to see how dog families often stay within the equine sphere. Laura Collett’s dog, Coco, is a Jack Russell, who often features on her Instagram feed.

    Gemma Tattersall’s mum bred her, and Gemma has one of her sisters,” explains Laura. “She’s very vocal and opinionated and spends every day on the yard – but a stay-away in the lorry is her favourite thing.”

    Dogs at shows are a perennial sight – but some dogs travel further afield than others. Showjumper Nici Wilson has Mylo, a Patterdale/Norfolk terrier, who “loves his trips abroad. He makes a great lorry dog as he sleeps all the way, and is very small.”

    Mylo normally travels with his best friend Mabel, a French bulldog – and the pair enjoy visiting Mabel’s native France.

    “Mylo loves French shows; they’re much more relaxed over there, and dogs are allowed to roam free,” Nici says. “They’re usually so busy playing with the other dogs that they never even look at a horse!”

    The well-travelled terrier even made it on to the red carpet in Monaco, where Nici was competing in the Longines Global Champions Tour.

    It isn’t just eventers that like their terriers. Many a racing yard is home to a terrier or two. In fact, some even make their way to the weighing room. Former National Hunt jockey Lizzie Kelly’s Jack Russell terrier, Crumpet, has a long family lineage – Lizzie’s mother owns both Crumpet’s mother and grandmother.

    “She used to come racing sometimes,” says Lizzie, who retired earlier this year.

    It’s not just at the races where Crumpet makes herself at home.

    “Crumpet spends most of the time with my husband Ed who works for [trainer] Archie Watson, where she does an amazing job of keeping the mouse population down around the barns”, explains Lizzie.

    Crumpet is in good company as a dog with an important job. At international dressage rider and showing producer Louise Bell’s yard, French bulldog Alfie Bell has the role of teacher’s assistant.

    “If a horse needs encouraging during jump training or is messing about, Alfie takes it upon himself to start jumping the fence to try to get the horse to follow,” explains Louise. “His favourite jump is a water complex; I’ve taken him cross-country schooling as well and he loves a water splash; there’s a video of it on my Instagram page.”

    Alfie also loves going to shows.

    “Everyone knows him, and he never misses a meal or a get-together with my fellow competitors and their dogs,” explains Louise. “There’s definitely a family of show dogs that meet up at shows. Alfie’s favourite friend is Bami, Lottie Fry’s dog. He makes out he’s terrified of Alfie, but secretly he loves him.”

    For Twitter followers of Cheltenham-based racehorse trainer Fergal O’Brien, when a picture of a chase fence appears in your feed, it’s always something of a gamble as to what animal might appear over the top of it: a horse or a dog. Fergal’s retired greyhound Tommy (pictured) makes a super shape over a hurdle, taking barrels and brush fences in his stride.

    Several other racing trainers favour fast dogs. Lambourn-based trainer Jamie Osborne has a whippet, Bobby, who has made herself famous on social media for very different reasons from Tommy.

    “Bad Bobby”, as she is now known, made a media sensation of herself when Jamie posted a video of her belting up the gallops after the racehorses – a racing version of the famous Fenton of Richmond Park. Luckily the horses ignored her – but of course she isn’t the only dog ever to have misbehaved.

    “My last Jack Russell escaped from someone and ran through all the dressage arenas at Tweseldown to get to me – even though I was riding at the time,” recalls event rider Zac Heydon.

    The Fox-Pitts’ Tilly has also left her mark.

    “She always comes to shows,” says Alice, “but she can be naughty when she’s left alone in the lorry. She’s chewed the indicator stick in the Oakley Supreme, and the door handle.”

    Other naughty dogs have more dangerous tricks up their sleeve.

    “Crumpet likes hiding things like bones,” says Lizzie. “One Christmas, I’d bought a box of golf ball-shaped chocolates, but one day I got home to find the packaging ripped open and all the chocolates gone! I was obviously hugely worried that Crumpet had eaten them all, and she got a good telling off. But over the next couple of days, I found chocolate golf balls all over the place. In the log basket, under cushions, and in all kinds of little cubbyholes. She’d just hidden them all around the house, safe and sound in their gold foil wrappers.”

    At least that tale had a happy ending. On one trip back from competing in Le Mans, Nici Wilson was waiting to board a boat from Caen when Mabel the French bulldog stuck her head out of the lorry window.

    “The authorities caught sight of her and decided we weren’t allowed on the boat – you aren’t allowed dogs in freight vehicles on that ferry line,” she says. “So we had to drive all the way to Calais to come home.”

    It turns out it’s not that easy to take a French bulldog out of France after all.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 26 November 2020

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