• Fran Cleland

When horse people go to the dogs ... literally


ABOVE: Show horse judge Chris Wilmott with his English Toy Terrier.

GO to any horse event and you will see dogs. Beady-eyed cattle dogs guarding trucks, Labradors sharing ice-creams with toddlers, Jack Russell terriers watching passers by while sharing a hamburger with their owner at the food van.


They are everywhere, all shapes, sizes and breeds.


So really, given that horse people love dogs, it’s not surprising that so many people when they retire from showing horses go to the dogs.


Not in the way you might think, they don’t get decrepit and hang around sleazy bars, or lose all their hard-earned money at the casino, they find a pure-bred dog breed they like and head right back to the show ring.


I’ve thought a lot about this, and especially about the people that judged at a high level in show horses or dressage. They have an excellent eye for movement and form, so it’s logical they would want the same in their pet.


They simply move to a different sort of show, where beauty, movement and temperament means everything. Nothing different really, just in a smaller version.


Claire Uren showed horses at the highest level, with Royal Show and Horse of the Year awards and now has the same success with Miniature Schnauzers. She says she arrived at dog shows by chance.


“(It was) accidental really,” she said. “We bought Harriet as a pet only but researching the breed, I decided I wanted to have a correct wire coat and not clip it off.


“The breeder wanted to see her so we met up at a show. All the Schnauzer people said she should be shown and my eye said she was good enough so we did – and we have shown ever since.”


Melissa Froesch, best known as a top-level showjumper and breeder of quality jumping horses, is spending just as much time showing Standard Poodles with her mother and nine-year-old daughter Opal.

ABOVE: Melissa Froesch's daughter Opal.

In a recent run-off for best of breed, Melissa handled one dog and handed the other to her daughter and was beaten by her.


“Opal tells me that Elton likes her better than me,” Melissa said.


“She doesn’t do a bad a job for a nine-year-old.


“Mum had always wanted a toy poodle so we got a Toy Poodle, a few months later I got a Standard Poodle then we decided to show and it went from there. It’s something mum, Opal and I all do together.


Melissa said showing dogs is not as simple as it looks.


“At the start I thought it would be fairly easy to show a dog as I had done showing and lead rein classes as a child however, leading a Poodle correctly in the show ring isn’t easy, or stacking them (standing them correctly). There are so many things to showing poodles as a beginner you have no idea until you go into it.”


Boston Terriers could have a ring of their own with horse people handling: Phillip Mayorkonis, Jenny Foster, Lynne and Leanne King all show the breed.


Taylah Lee shows a strong team of Welsh Ponies but is also raising two litters of Dalmatian puppies.


“I haven’t shown since Covid but hopefully this summer,” she said.


The list keeps growing. Add to these Jo Malloy’s Boxers, and Welsh cob breeder Chantal Parrat’s Sloughi and Azawakh Sight Hounds, Sue Mews’ Border Terriers: all active show people that have found that beautiful dogs are as addictive as beautiful horses.


Jason Joyce has showjumpers and is also showing smooth Fox Terriers and Beagles.

Chris Wilmott and his partner Dean Mathews are both top level judges of show horses, but Chris spends more time showing his English Toy Terrier, who keeps winning rosettes bigger than herself.


Jean Purcell rode and showed at the highest level, then moved on to with husband Bruce training racehorses. Jean and her daughter Emma also show Maremma dogs, which they got into originally to save their stud sheep from fox attack. One guard Maremma was bought, then another and now the big white dogs spend as much time parading in the show ring as they do in the paddock with the sheep.


So, if you are sitting around wondering “whatever happened to” … maybe just go to a dog show, you will be surprised who you might find.


ABOVE: Jean Purcell's daughter Emma Astbury in the winner's circle with one of her family's Maremmas.