Horse Shows and Dog Etiquette

Horse people tend to be dog people in a typical package deal. Few things are more adorable than a well-behaved dog sitting on a golf cart or the stands, appearing to observe the rounds with their owner. Conversely, not much is more frustrating than an ill mannered dog that runs into the middle of the ring, barks constantly in the bleachers or barn rows, or lunges at dogs, people or horses. There are a plethora of videos on the Internet of dogs chasing after horses during competition. This is simply unacceptable. It is vital to remember that people are paying to show and they only get a small amount of time to exhibit their skills; even five minutes of a distracting dog can ruin a ride and may potentially severely injure horse or rider.

Most horse show venues require that dogs must be on leash at all times, however exhibitors frequently ignore this. This is not only detrimental to horse and rider, but it can be dangerous to the dog as well: when uncontrolled, it may be stomped by a horse, attacked by another dog, become lost, or be run over by a vehicle. The vast increase in stimuli at the show may elicit a change in attitude, regardless if the dog is a perfectly obedient off leash at home. They also may enter the ring and distract a young horse that is not used to seeing a dog.

While it is the riders responsibility to desensitize horses to all manners of stimuli, at home many owners prefer not to allow dogs out at the barn due to potential injury to horse or canine, and leave said dogs in the house. When in the ring, it is not the exhibitor’s obligation to avoid the dog. The judge may penalize the rider for breaking gait or spooking at an entirely preventable issue, if only the dog was leashed as required.

Granted, there are always opportunistic dogs that may, despite best efforts, occasionally chew through a leash or dig out of a stall. Others bark continuously on loop in a crate or when left in a stall, sending out wave after wave of earsplitting cacophony for any person who is unfortunate enough to be stabled within range. In those instances, it may behoove the owners to leave such creative pups at a doggy day care or find someone that pet sits in order to avoid distracting the other competitors.

Once dogs are properly tethered as noted by show rules, it is still imperative that routine care is continued as if they are at home. Regular, clean water should be available, especially in the summer heat. Do not expect them to drink from puddles and creeks, as a Protozoa named Giardia proliferates in these areas, which can leave dogs very ill. These protozoa can also be passed to other animals and are Zoonotic, meaning they can infect people as well. Puddles may also contain contaminants and chemicals such as antifreeze that may be toxic or unhealthy.  There are plenty of inexpensive options to provide fresh water to canine companions, including collapsible water bowls which lay flat when not in use, and attach to water bottles by carabineer. Most show concession stands will provide free water in cups or bowls if asked, or there are plenty of water spigots near the barns to fill up bowls. Ensure the water is not warm or hot, as it will not help cool the dog.

Do not leave dogs in the sun, instead offering ample shade within easy reach. If the dog has a long coat, consider leaving them at home during the hottest part of the year. Closely monitor for heat exhaustion and heat stroke, as both are potentially fatal. Never succumb to the temptation to leave a dog in a car or trailer, even on a relatively cool day. Temperatures within a vehicle or trailer rapidly climb to fatal levels, even in the shade. Keeping windows cracked does not abate this issue – keep them out of the vehicle unless the A/C is running and a person is inside the car to observe. Pavement easily becomes blistering in the sun and can scald paws quickly; walk them through the grass as much as possible and opt to carry the dog if pavement is unavoidable and the dog is small enough and willing to be toted around. There are also boots available to keep the dog from burning its paws for those who are not quite so portable.

Shows generally run long hours from dawn to dusk. If everyone will be there from start to finish, including canines, remember to bring the food to offer at normal meal times. It is best to bring the current dog food, especially if traveling out of time. Not all stores carry the same stock, and changing food on the fly can cause digestive issues. If the dog is a particularly picky eater, they may stop eating entirely.

Horses require coggins papers and health certificates before they enter the show grounds, however dogs do not require the
same paperwork. They do require current rabies tags to leave the property, and it would be best to check with a qualified veterinarian about vaccines for the area. Common courtesy indicates if a dog is running a fever, has kennel cough, or seems sick in some other way, it is in the best interest of all the animals on the property and the ill to leave them at home where they do not pass the infection. Refer to the dog’s regular qualified veterinarian on when it is best to bring it back into public areas.

An unpleasant, but entirely vital part of the conversation is to ensure that the dog’s waste is picked up. If feces are left all over the show grounds, people will step in it; a rather unpleasant version of Easter egg hunting. There are rolls of plastic bags specifically for picking up waste available at most stores, or grocery bags are a free alternative to use. Do not leave the bag for someone else to pick up – make sure it makes it to a trashcan. If a dog feels the need to mark everything in sight, be mindful and do not allow them to mark other people’s property, especially hay, saddles, or anything else that is expensive or problematic to replace. This is much easier to avoid if the dog is on leash. Urine is challenging to deodorize, and when sprayed on clothing, especially before entering the show ring, it is an unpleasant experience. It is easy to aggravate other barns if a dog is running between stalls marking everything in sight.

Most shows are offered in the summer. When severe weather inevitably descends upon the grounds, some dogs freak out and hide. If not on leash, it is easy to get separated have a beloved companion get lost. If the worst happens and a tornado touches down, without having the dog within sight, the dog may become injured or disappear.

If proper etiquette is not followed, eventually dogs may not be allowed at shows anymore. There are some indoor arenas already banning dogs, and it is not unfathomable that more will follow. People that trail ride or show frequently spend time on the road and enjoy bringing their companions with them. These rules can easily be applied to campsites as well, and are even more important if people are attempting to sleep and are serenaded by the constant barking of a dog at three o’clock in the morning.  If they follow the basic tenants of horse show etiquette with canine companions, it will be much easier to make friends and foster good will, the same as the horse show world. By following these suggestions, it is that much easier to keep dogs, horses, and humans safe, which is a win all around