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Loose dogs in riding arena

From: Frances

Dear Jessica,

I hope you can answer my question. It concerns an issue that is of grave concern to me from a safety standpoint. I board my horse at a medium-sized, family run riding stable. There are approximately 28 head, with many of the boarders being 4-H members. My problem is loose dogs being allowed to run about the property while boarders are riding. Yesterday a major disaster was averted by mere seconds when another boarder's dog burst into the riding arena from the outside. My horse, bless his heart, kept me safe, but had we been 10-15 feet further ahead, we would have literally run over the dog, with who-knows what disaster ensueing. I am concerned for my beloved horse's welfare, as well as my own, being a somewhat "breakable" older rider of 53 yrs. There is no posted policy at the facilty regarding dogs. I feel this is not only a hazard to my own personal safety and that of my horse, but also an incredibly huge liability issue for the owners of the facilty. Can you provide me with any valid, persuasive arguments that I can present to theowners to plead my case for a policy forbiding loose dogs? I am at my wits end, and feel the only recourse is to move to a different barn that is, in other aspects, much less desirable.

Thank you so much,


Hi Frances! You are right to be concerned; loose dogs at boarding barns (training barns, breeding barns, etc.) are usually accidents waiting to happen. This is precisely why well-run barns typically have - and enforce - a set of barn rules, including "No dogs allowed," or, occasionally, "Dogs allowed only when leashed and under the direct control of the owner."

Do loose dogs at boarding stables present a human safety hazard? Yes. Do they present a horse safety hazard? Yes again. Do they present a possibly serious liability issue for the property owners? Oh, yes. Anyone who has ever purchased a CEL (Commercial Equine Liability) policy for a horse farm or boarding stable will be very familiar with the dog-related questions on the insurance company's application forms. These questions may vary slightly from company to company, but you'll typically see such questions as:

Insurance companies have sound reasons for asking such questions. Like the other questions in the application, the purpose of these is to provide the insurer with information that will help determine (a) your level of exposure to risk, and (b)the rates that you will pay for your policy. As I've said before, insurance companies aren't sentimental, nor do they choose numbers at random. Allowing people to bring their dogs onto the property increases the barn owners' exposure to risk. Allowing people to bring their dogs onto the property and turn them loose increases that exposure a lot more. Increased exposure corresponds to higher rates... this isn't anything resembling rocket science. It's all about statistics and actuarial tables - the ones that tell us that the numbers show us that a 36-year-old female with twenty years of safe driving record and a three-year-old mid-range sedan is likely to be a safer driver than a 16-year-old male with a brand-new driver's license and a brand-new, expensive sports car. As the kids say, "Well DUH!"

Most well-run barns (breeding, training, and boarding) have rules about dogs, and enforce those rules for everyone's safety. At many barns, dogs are simply not allowed - boarders and visitors are told to leave their dogs at home, and that's that - there's no room for argument and there are no exceptions. At other facilities, if there's a situation that forces a boarder or visitor to bring a dog to the farm on a particular occasion, special permission is required and the dog must be secured in its owner's vehicle. Small, family farms with a horse or two of their own and only one or two boarders MAY be more liberal in permitting boarders and visitors to bring their dogs with them - OR THEY MAY NOT. Owners of well-trained dogs sometimes expect facilities to allow dogs provided that they are quiet, on a leash, and under their owner's direct control at all times. This is NOT a safe assumption to make. ASK, DON'T ASSUME. No one should EVER assume that ANY equine-related facility will welcome dogs, even if those dogs are leashed and well-behaved. This doesn't mean that farm owners and barn managers dislike dogs - just that the property is either a "dog-free zone" or a "patrolled by our own farm/barn dogs" zone. The primary reason for a "no dogs" rule is exactly the same as the primary reason for a "no smoking" rule - SAFETY.

The situation at your boarding barn is putting you and your horse at risk - along with the other boarders and their horses. There is no reason to allow loose dogs at a boarding barn - much less to allow them to run around and through barns and arenas in use by boarders and their horses.

It's very good of you to be concerned for the barn's owners, and you are right, this puts them at risk as well, although your risk is (primarily) physical and theirs is (primarily) financial. When you discuss this matter with them, you may want to suggest that they can diminish the risk to their boarders and horses, AND lessen their own risk of liability, by adding a "no dogs" rule - or at least a "no loose dogs" rule - to their boarding contract.

The barn owners - and feel free to show them this letter - might want to review the specific terms of their insurance policy and consider the implications of their answers to the questions on their insurance policy application. If the rules and policies they reported to their insurance company were fictional, and aren't enforced by them in real life, their coverage may not, well, cover them at all under those circumstances.

In any case, I agree with you that a policy forbidding loose dogs would be to everyone's advantage. If your barn owners are willing to add and enforce such a policy, hurrah - you won't have to worry about silly, unnecessary, EXTRA risks created by the presence of loose dogs. There's a difference between unavoidable risk factors and avoidable risk factors. To protect yourself and your horse, you need to be aware of the former and eliminate the latter. Heaven knows there are enough risks associated with riding and handling horses, even at the best of times and in the best of barns. If it turns out that the owners of THIS barn prefer loose dogs to good boarders such as yourself, then yes, you should leave. But do have a good try at discussing the problem first. Since you have done nothing wrong - and everything right - by asking for advice on this matter, and since you are clearly concerned for the barn owners as well as for your horse and yourself and the other horses and their owners, why not simply show them this letter? Please let me know how it comes out, and (as I can't do much more than this) I'll cross my fingers that the owners will do the right thing.

Good luck!


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