Dogs and Horses.
“No philosophers so thoroughly comprehend us as dogs and horses” – Herman Melville
Throughout many parts of the world there has always been a strong association between the two closest domestic animals to man – dogs and horses. Humans owe a great deal of gratitude to both of these animals who have had such a bearing on our culture and have contributed to the success and progress of mankind. From ploughing fields to protection, assisting in wars and helping us travel long distances, these animals have made a massive impact on human development and both species continue to do so today.
Perhaps one of the best known dog, horse combinations is that between the carriage horse and the Dalmatian. These dogs have a long history of working alongside horses as guardians and protectors of passengers as well as effective killers of rats in the stables at night.
There are many similarities between the horse and the dog. Horses were often revered as symbols of wealth and prestige and there have been as many famous horses throughout history as there have been dogs. Also, like dogs, horses in many cultures are no longer used in real work such transportation, herding or ploughing and particularly in countries such as the UK the horse, like his canine counterpart, is broadly regarded as a companion animal.
There are many situations where dogs and horses work together, from herding cattle in Mexico, to hunting or working alongside each other in police or armed forces. Even if they are not working together there are many jobs horses carry out that dogs do too.
In the USA miniature horses have been experimentally utilised as guides for people with disabilities as well as assisting visually impaired persons. Similarly, there are many programmes across the United States and the UK that employ horses in animal assisted therapy for people with emotional or mental health conditions.
However, while there are many stories of the respectful friendship between dogs and horses, it is still wise to bear in mind that this isn’t always the case! Just like every horse, every dog is different and some dogs just won’t get on with such a large and often, skittish animal.
Therefore, it is always wise to take care with your dog when you are around horses and likewise, it is only fair for riders to show courtesy when approaching dogs on horseback, especially if they are on the lead – although granted this often isn’t the case.
While dogs are predatory animals – horses are prey! This is why many dogs will want to chase a running horse and why many horses will have a strong instinct to run away and if the horse has a rider they may not even be able to fully control this, so there is a real danger the horse may bolt.
The obvious difference in size doesn’t necessarily mean that a dog will be more scared of a horse – in fact, horses are generally much more frightened of dogs and this can create issues for the animals themselves as well as the people in control of them.
If you are a dog owner and you meet horses along the way, always put your dog on the lead and ideally ask your dog to sit quietly until the horses have passed. Some horses may have had terrible experiences with dogs in the past and may well react in an unexpected, or even dangerous way, so it is really important that dog owners maintain control of their pets whenever horses and riders are near. Owners can be prosecuted under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 or the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, so training your dog to be calm around horses, should be part of a socialisation plan, especially for owners who live in areas frequented by horses and riders.
Sources: ‘Animals in Celtic Life and Myth’: Green, M; Guide Horse Foundation (USA); The British Horse Society;
A. Gordon – BSc Hons.