Ample outside time, opportunities for photos with your horse, and a constant companion to keep you company during long days - there’s a lot to love about bringing your dog to a horse show. But with so much to sniff, chase and bark at, it’s essential to figure out beforehand whether or not your dog is ready to spend all day with you and your pony pal. With the help of some horse show dog experts, we’ve assembled some top tips on the do’s and don’ts of bringing your pupper along to a horse show.
1) Know your dog
- It might seem rudimentary, but many people bring their dogs to shows without understanding some key factors that may affect their enjoyment of a long day spent outdoors. Energy level, heat tolerance, and sociability are all important to consider before you choose to take your dog along for the ride. Is your dog a larger breed who tends to get exhausted easily? Do they have a thick coat year-round that makes them ill-suited for long days in the sun? Also be honest with yourself about how well your dog has been socialized before introducing them to the bustling and high-energy atmosphere of a horse show. If you know your pup doesn’t mix well with others, find your own space away from other spectators or bring a crate along so you can be sure your dog has their own, dedicated area while you’re out riding. As the owner of a sensitive animal, it’s your job to find a space that is appropriate for their needs or perhaps leave them at home entirely. No matter how long you’ve dreamt of bringing your dog to a competition, take care to assess if a show is really the environment for them.
2) Adjust your plans based on age & experience
- It’s easy to watch seasoned horse-show veteran pups whizzing by on golf carts or snoozing calmly ringside and come to the conclusion that all dogs can handle the horse show life, but the fact of the matter is this just might not be in the cards for every dog. For example, younger pups may start out as uncontrollable balls of energy dragging you all over the show, but can quickly exhaust themselves and require quiet time to rest and recharge. They may also need additional reinforcement when it comes to practicing their manners as the day goes on. Prepare yourself to constantly reinforce that no matter how much they want to, they cannot chase the strange big dogs playing in the sand and jumping colorful sticks. The key here is to pay attention to your dog’s energy level and attention span, and be able to adjust your plans accordingly to compensate.
3) Choose your show carefully
- While you may technically be able to bring your pup to any horse show you desire, some are definitely more pet friendly than others. The Devon Horse Show, for example, is located in the middle of a residential and commercial area outside of Philadelphia and has next to no extra space on the property. While the idea of strolling through the country fair and carnival with your dog after a busy morning of showing sounds like a highly-Instagramable dream, the reality might be a little less glamorous. There are few places to walk, even fewer places for your dog to relieve themselves, and limited space to crate your dog while you ride. Most outdoor shows with space for off-leash adventures (i.e. a pond or open field nearby) are ideal for attending with your four-legged friend, but it’s best to start with one you know. That way you can plan outings with your pup in between rounds without having to worry about which areas are dog-friendly.
- Indoor shows are a different story altogether. Talk about limited space! Not to mention there’s nothing worse than dealing with a barking dog in a confined, echo-filled indoor space while the High-Performance Hunters are going. Unless you know the venue from top to bottom and can plan out exactly how you’ll handle a visit with your pup, it might be better to leave them at home.
- What are some of the most dog-friendly shows? Our top pick would be just about any event held at the Kentucky Horse Park. There’s plenty of space for walks, lots of sights to see, and an open environment where it’s easy to take a step away from the show if your dog needs to take a break. Bonus: The Kentucky Three-Day event is essentially Disney World for horsey dog folk. After a long day of slogging around the cross-country course, both you and your pup will be ready for a big dinner and a good nap.
4) (Almost) always stay on a leash
- Hopefully this one doesn’t need much explaining. We’ve all seen our fair share of loose dogs running into active show rings and it’s downright terrifying. Save yourself, your fellow competitors, and horses the stress by always keeping your dog on a leash. That being said, it is quite nice to let your dog off the leash and allow them go for a run after they’ve been patiently waiting ringside watching trip after trip. Some shows have great areas nearby where it’s safe to let your dog off the leash without worrying about them getting into trouble. This is where your pre-show research comes in. Ask around online to see what shows have access to areas for your dog to cool off, let loose, or just have a little wander time…without spooking exhibitors.
5) Pack smart
- If you’re considering taking your dog to a show, chances are good you’ve already considered what basics to pack - a collapsible water bowl, plastic baggies, and snacks for the both of you. If you’re showing somewhere where there’s more asphalt and gravel roads than grassy green pastures, a set of dog booties might be an appropriate addition to your packing list if your dog has sensitive feet. Bringing your dog’s favorite travel bed or blanket might also be a good idea if your pup isn’t a fan of riding in the golf cart or gets anxious waiting around the stabling areas. The introduction of a familiar, cozy item they know and love can put them at ease and encourage them to lie down and rest even while hanging out at a high-energy venue. If your pup is the playful type, bring along an interactive dog toy like a kong to keep them occupied while you show. Nothing makes a dog happier than a kong full of peanut butter.
6) Bring an assistant
- If it’s your dog’s first trip to a horse show, or if you’re planning on riding multiple horses and saddling up more than once during the day, it might be a good idea to bring a friend along who can help you look after your dog while you’re busy. They’ll be less likely to bark, get into trouble, or make themselves anxious if they’re hanging out with their second-favorite human while you’re taking care of business in the show ring. If you know your buddy is in good hands, you’ll have one less thing to worry about which translates into more energy to spend on memorizing your courses.
7) Prepare for the trip home
- Dogs love horse poop - it’s a scientific fact. We’ve never met a dog who hasn’t enjoyed sniffing out the nastiest stuff to roll in. Horse shows are not known to be the cleanest of venues and endless mud is a serious possibility at springtime competitions. A vinyl or durable protector for the back seat of your car is definitely a must, and high absorbency/quick-dry towels make it much easier to give you pup a quick bath in the wash stall if they’ve gotten into something particularly egregious. Wet dog smell is definitely preferable to the decadent manure pile aroma your buddy might acquire after a day at the show.
8) Always have your camera on hand
- Again, a no-brainer for animal people but it’s so important it definitely bears restating here. You never know when that money-shot of your dog and horse snuggling will come along, so it’s important to be ready at all times! Acquaint yourself with burst-mode in your camera's settings so whenever you animals get even remotely close to each other, you can hold down that shutter button and hopefully capture the squeal-inducing family photo of your dreams.