Skip to main content

Dogs, equestrian competitions and owner liability

The recent incident at Luhmuhlen Horse Trials in Germany has brought into focus again the risks associated with dogs at equestrian competitions and in public places generally.

At Luhmuhlen a British competitor was unseated from his horse at the penultimate fence on the cross-country course, when a dog on an extendable lead ran on to the track as he was approaching the fence.  

This caused his horse to deviate from the planned line to jump the fence and in the horse’s continued attempt to jump the fence, the rider was unseated.  Fortunately, according to reports, on this occasion neither the horse nor rider were injured.  

However, the fall meant that the rider lost his opportunity of success in the event, which apart from the financial costs associated with attending would have been a devastating and frustrating finish to the event for which many hours preparation would have been required.

Minimising the risk at eventing

Eventing is a risk sport and much research and preparation goes into minimising the risks at events. 

The courses are designed and prepared to set standards and there are rules which competitors must follow in terms of protective gear and a focus on the horse’s welfare.  

There are also rules to follow to protect spectators and for those bringing dogs to the event. There are strict rules at events about keeping dogs on leads and under control and whenever a dog slips its collar or, as in this instance has been able to run on to the track because of the extendable lead, the owner of the dog is at risk of a claim against them if the rider and/or horse or others at the event are injured as a consequence. 

The risks of dogs causing injury or interrupting competitions are such that many events also choose to fine dog owners where a dog is not on a lead.

Many of the incidents arise because the dog slips his lead or has perhaps got free before being put on a lead or the owner has let go.  Anyone who owns dogs will have experienced times when they have lost recall or things haven’t gone to plan and there is sympathy in such situations.  

However, loose dogs on the competition field creates dangers for the competitor, the horses and potentially spectators particularly if the dog decides to chase the horse or it causes an interruption, and the rider is unseated.

Civil liability

In these circumstances, whilst it seems to be accepted that these things do happen from time to time, there is potential for civil liability to attach to the dog’s owner or the person in charge of the dog at the time.   

Each circumstance would need to be considered on its facts, but if a dog has caused injury whilst loose either because of a slipped collar, running at the end of an extendable lead or the owner has let go of the lead, the owner is likely to be in breach of the event rules.  They may face allegations of negligence for failing to keep their dog under control and causing injury.

Further, there is potential for strict liability against the owner of the dog which means that there is no need to prove negligence, if the requirements of The Animals’ Act 1971 are met. This Act of Parliament provides that in certain circumstances, a dog owner or keeper is strictly liable for the injuries caused by their animal, even in circumstances where they are not negligent.  

This is the case if it can be proved that the damage caused by the dog was likely to be severe and the likelihood of the damage occurring was due to characteristics of dogs which are not normally found except at particular times or in particular circumstances and those characteristics were known to the keeper. 


Thankfully, injuries are not often caused in these circumstances and the incidents are low. However, this incident, which has received significant media coverage, brings the issue to the forefront again and it is important that dog owners are aware of the potential for liability against them in these situations.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting horse riders injured at our dedicated horse riding injuries section.

A high-profile incident at a five-star event has re-opened debate over dogs at events.

Tokyo Olympic team gold and individual silver medallist Tom McEwen and his ride Bob Chaplin, who was making his five-star debut, were on the final approach to the corner at 29a (Kombination “Close to Home”) at Luhmühlen Horse Trials , when a dog on an extendable lead ran on to the track.”