Why You Should Always Respect Leash Laws

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In March 2009, I broke my shoulder and suffered a concussion due to a bad fall from my horse Alpine. My husband and I had been on trail. Two other horses came galloping towards us from the opposite direction followed by two loose dogs running like crazy. The dogs passed us and my horse spun around. I managed to stay on but when another hiker approaching from a third direction (we were at the juncture where several trails meet) with his dog also not on leash, the other two dogs ran back towards us again, sending Alpine into panic mode. The dogs got into a dog fight. People were yelling. My husband’s horse was hoping up and down. And my horse, well, he just wanted to run away from the ruckus. He spun around a couple more times and took off down the hill towards home.

That’s all I remember. Next thing I knew my husband was trying to wake me up. I could hear the helicopter above us, and many voices around me, but I couldn’t quite wake up. I managed to ask him what happened and he told me I fell off my horse. Alpine came back to us once he figured things out, but I was in bad shape. I spent the weekend at the hospital with a concussion (even though I was wearing a helmet) and a broken shoulder, which would require surgery.

Since then, we have encountered many people letting their dogs run loose on the trails. It would be one thing if we were out in the countryside where there are no leash laws, but it’s quite another when we are in a developed area with leash laws. We share the trails with joggers, walkers, bikers, and their dogs. Most people sharing the trail know to yield for the horses. Runners stop or slow down to a walk and bikers either stop or dismount and pull over to the side. Dogs are supposed to be on leash and most people know to ask them to sit and wait until the horses pass. Why does everyone yield to horses? Because horses are prey animals with a well developed fight or flight instinct. If confronted with a situation, they will choose flight.

My horse Alpine is normally a very docile horse, but when he saw all the commotion of horses galloping and dogs running then growling and fighting, that sent him into flight mode. Nothing I could do at that moment could stop him from just wanting to run away! I vaguely remember two more hikers I saw out of the corner or my eye as we were galloping downhill. They might have had a loose dog as well, I’ll never know.

The point of this story is, please respect leash laws. They are there for a reason. In developed, urban areas, horses are not used to seeing animals running wild, so they cannot always discern whether it is danger or not. And besides the dangers of rattlesnakes, why put your dog at risk of getting in a fight with another dog, get injured, or injure someone else? Unless you have a dog that is 100% reliable on recall, please do not put him at risk or others around you. Paying a fine might mean nothing to you, but for the person who gets injured and has to live with those injuries, it is not a laughing matter.

Train, train, train and keep training your dogs. And please respect leash laws. Not all horses are used to dogs running around loose.  Stay safe so everyone can enjoy the trails.

Elena Flyer is a Californian owner and lover of animals: horses, dogs, birds – you name it! She is actively involved in the community whether through therapeutic dog visits to healthcare facilities, or volunteering at Labrador Rescuers.

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