Horseback Handling Tips for When
Your Dog is on Point or Honoring

by Mark Powell

In a field trial, you should always pay very rapt attention to your dog, above and beyond virtually everything else except direct instructions from a judge. When judging, I usually see handlers on horseback commit handling errors in the handling of their horse when their dog goes on point or is backing.

First, many handlers will ride up to within five or ten yards of the dog on point. The immediate problem with this is that the horse rushing up will vibrate the ground and may flush the bird. At this point, you have put your dog at risk. Dogs chase birds for multiple reasons: 1) they were taught to chase in the Puppy/Derby stage (why training a dog to be steady to wing and shot is commonly called breaking a dog); 2) the predator's chase of prey to capture it; and, 3) to beat out any competition to the prey, in this case you or your horse. Causing the bird to prematurely flush by rushing in too close on horseback puts an undue strain on your dog for reason three. Even if your dog does stand solidly, you have blown an opportunity to handle your dog completely, and if there is retrieving on the course, a chance to get your retrieve. You will still need another find.

TIP #1: I recommend that you not ride up any closer than 15 yards to your dog on point or honoring. Don't provide any more distractions for your dog than absolutely necessary.

Second, horseback handlers often wait with their horse for someone to ride up and take the reins. The extra wait puts additional pressure on the dog, and if the handler has ridden up too close, the additional horses may flush the bird or distract the dog. Obviously, the reason a handler does this is that he or she does not trust their horse. To field trial competitively on your own horse, you should have trained your horse to ground-tie and be able to trust it to stay close, or else not use the horse. If the horse is not your own, properly trained of course, you take a small risk of the horse wandering off. Better that than your dog breaking.

TIP #2: I recommend that you get off your horse at 15 to 20 yards or more from your dog on point or honoring, leave it immediately to handle your dog, and not look back. Someone, either the marshal, your scout, or someone in the gallery will catch your horse if it moves. At worst, you will resume handling on foot until someone returns your horse.

Third, as a judge, I have had scouts, marshals, or gallery members ride between me and the handler's dog on point to collect the handler's horse. This is an obvious discourtesy to the handler by blocking the judges' view. And as a handler, I would be livid if anyone obstructed the judges ability to judge my dog. Ultimately, you as the handler bear the responsibility to handle your horse in a manner such that it will not interfere with the judges' view of your dog, for your own sake.

TIP #3: I recommend that you be sure that your horse handling cannot interfere with the judges view of your dog. Coordinate in advance with your scout or marshal how your horse should be handled when you dismount.

Have fun and good luck at your next trial!

Reprinted with permission from the Pointing Breed Sports in the Field Internet World Wide Web pages (, sponsored by Attwater Publishing. Attwater Publishing is the proud publisher of QUALIFY! A Guide to Successful Handling in AKC Pointing Breed Hunting Tests by Mark Powell, available for $21.90 including first class shipping and handling (Texas orders must include $1.70 state sales tax), 1-800-513-3772.

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