Man’s Best Riding Companion

Discovering which dog breeds make the best riding partners

By Jill Overacker

It is rare nowadays for a stable or ranch to not have a resident “barn dog”. While barn dogs come in all shapes and sizes, over the years certain breeds have become more associated with horses than others. I spoke with Lisa Peterson, spokesperson for the American Kennel Club (AKC), about which dog breeds and types of dogs make the best riding companions. Luckily, Peterson is not only knowledgeable about dogs, but an avid equestrian for more than 40 years. I also asked Equitrekking readers their opinions on the subject and what types of dogs they take riding with them. Peterson and our readers recommended many of the same breeds and the findings have been separated into the different AKC dog-type categories. Here is what was learned:

Herding Breeds have always been popular among horse owners. They exude characteristics like intelligence, energy, and responsiveness. Bred to be around other animals, herding breeds tend to be more attune and accepting of others. Some of the most popular herding breeds with horse owners are:

  • Australian Shepherd: Reader Recommended - Australian Shepherds are known for their even-temper and obedience. They are friendly towards strangers and their athleticism makes them able to travel long distances    without rest.
  • German Shepard: Reader Recommended - The AKC website lists the German Shepherd as loyal, athletic, friendly and intelligent. Peterson also noted that German Shepherds are extremely trainable, making them ideal   for the trails.
  • Border Collie: Reader Recommended - The Border Collie’s smarts and boundless energy make them ideal for long trail rides. Bred originally for sheep herding, Border Collies have a natural way around other animals.
  • Corgi: It’s hard for me to think of the term “barn dog” and not think of a Corgi. The smallest of the herding dogs, Corgis are a very popular stable companion. Originally bred to herd cattle, they are right at home on any farm. Though energetic, the Corgi’s short legs may make it hard for them to keep up on longer trail rides.
  • Australian Cattle Dog: Reader Recommended - The Australian Cattle Dog, like many on this list, was bred to work around the farm. Their energy and quiet nature make them ideal riding companions. Though as our reader mentioned, they must first be trained to not herd the horses before being taken out on the trail.


Herding breeds in Texas

Two herding dogs hard at work in Texas.

Hound Breeds have long been associated with horses and tend to still be popular among horse owners today. Bred to travel long distances for hunts, hounds can make excellent long-distance trail companions. However, their desire to follow their nose may prove stronger than their desire to listen to you, causing them to wander off. Peterson listed the Fox Hound as the hound typically associated with horses.

  • English and American Fox Hounds: Bred to work specifically with horses, the English and American Fox Hound seem to still be a popular choice for horse owners. However, centuries of specific breeding have developed dogs that love to chase and may do so without your approval.

Sporting Breeds are still one of the most popular types of dog today. Sporting breeds are known for their loyalty, obedience and eagerness to please their owners. They also tend to need a lot of exercise and thus make good companions for long trail rides. Some of the most popular sporting breeds for horse owners are:

  • Labrador Retriever: Reader Recommendation – The Labrador Retriever has been the AKC’s most popular dog for the past 20 years. The Lab’s friendly personality, easy-going attitude and high-energy make it an ideal breed for horse-lovers as well as families.
  • German Shorthaired Pointer: A Peterson recommendation, the German Shorthaired Pointer was bred as an all-purpose hunting dog. They are known for their enthusiasm, energy, willingness and desire to please.


Labrador Retriever on Wyoming Ranch

Labrador Retriever we rode with while on a shoot in Wyoming.

Non-Sporting Breeds is an assorted group of breeds that do not seem to have similar characteristics. However, the breed that Peterson first thought of falls into this category - the Dalmatian.

  • Dalmatian: According to Peterson, the Dalmatian is the only breed that was specifically bred as a coach dog. They were taught to run alongside coaches and to protect them when their masters were away. The AKC website explains that Dalmatians still have an attraction to horses to this day. They tend to be energetic and intelligent.

Terrier Breeds are the final group on our list. Feisty and energetic, the Terrier group is made up of small, wiry dogs that were bred to hunt and kill small rodents. Terriers make the list because of the Parson Jack Russell Terrier which was bred for hunting, more specifically, for foxhunting.

  • Parson Jack Russell Terrier: The Parson Jack Russell Terrier was bred to be around horses, and have been, since the early 1800s. Their long legs and stamina help them keep up on long trail rides. They are known for the ready-to-go attitude, alertness and confidence. Parsons can still be found at many stables today. However, as a terrier, they tend to be more mischievous and adventurous than other breeds.


Parson Jack Russell Terrier on ranch in Spain

Tequila, a Parson Jack Russell Terrier we met on a shoot in Southern Spain

While the above breeds have historically been associated with the horse, Peterson says that it does not mean each dog will behave the same, or that another breed would not also do well with horses. Peterson’s picks for good, general qualities to look for in a canine riding companion are:

  • loyalty to master – look for a dog that takes their direction from their master
  • trainability – good trait if you need to give directions from atop a horse
  • agility – a dog that can get out of the way if the need arises

Whichever breed, or combination of breeds you choose, we hope that you, your horse and your canine companion enjoy your time together. Happy riding!

To learn more about the breeds you've seen here, please visit the AKC website. If you dare, take a moment and try your luck with the Dog Stars of Equitrekking Quiz, starring the many canines we've met during our travels.

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