Horse-Riding Dog Passes Torch To Understudy
Two British dogs have found a creative way of getting around their farms -- on the back of horses, who seem to enjoy the ride, as well. (ZT Pet News Photo by Andy Lewis)
FLAXLEY, England -- Peglar's Farm in Gloucestershire is known for its prize cattle, raised by Patricia Swinley. But the day a local news photographer arrived to capture the heralded bovine on film, a new star was born.
Freddie, a Jack Russell Terrier, ran across the yard and jumped upon the back of a Shetland pony, Daisy. Unflustered, Daisy went on a trot around the farm, and Freddie comfortably held his seat.
The photojournalist forgot about the cows and focused on the debuting double act.
"Daisy had never been ridden by a dog before and didn't seem to mind, so it must have been Providence," Swinley said of that first riding session in 2004.
Swinley says Freddie was a "natural jockey" and that he kept up his hobby. The attention continued, as well.
"The photograph of Freddie on Daisy was sent all around the world, as far as we can tell," Swinley said.
Schoolchildren would visit the farm to watch Freddie ride. Other newspapers and television reporters came to interview Swinley, and to also watch the pooch and pony strut their stuff.
Swinley particularly remembers a Japanese television crew that spent six hours filming Freddie from every angle.
It is quite an astounding sight, a Jack Russell sitting happily on the back of a pony. Although, Freddie isn't as nimble now as he was at the beginning of his riding career.
He is more cautious, slightly unsteady on Daisy's back. He prefers now to be lifted onto the pony and leaps off if he still feels too on edge. Swinley says she thinks that after five years, the novelty of riding and the thrill of attention have worn off for Freddie.
"He's quite famous, but he's beginning to enjoy stardom rather less than he used to," she said.
Freddie's preferred method of getting around these days is on a cart pulled by Daisy. Swinley and neighbor Sally Jones often take Freddie for cart rides around Gloucestershire's narrow country roads. They affectionately call the ritual, "Driving Miss Daisy," after the hit film.
"We get a lot of cars looking at us, a pony with a trap and a dog at my side," Jones said. "I like making people slow down a bit."
While Freddie seems to be slowing down, there is another dog who's happy to jump on in his stead.
The eager understudy is Percy, a Patterdale-Jack Russell mix. Jones and Percy live down the road from Swinley. Not long after he started visiting the farm, Percy leaped from the cart onto Daisy's back, imitating Freddie.
While Percy easily bounds onto Daisy's back, like Freddie used to, he has a different style. Percy, rather, bounces around and Jones has to work hard to get him to sit quietly on Daisy's back, not at all like Freddie.
"Percy's more like something in the circus really, Freddie's more of a horseman," Swinley said.
Percy sometimes uses Daisy as a stepping stone to hop on to Khan, a full-sized horse.
"Khan is rather tall to jump right on to," Jones said. "Percy needs Daisy."
Percy often hops from pony to horse, and then back again. He also likes to pull on the pony's mane and tail -- chewing on them like a giant dog toy. Daisy doesn't seem to mind.
Jones says both dogs, the pony and the horse enjoy their interactions, whether bareback or with the cart.
"I wouldn't do it if they didn't like it. They do enjoy it, terriers enjoy it, little ponies enjoy it," Jones said. "They don't put their ears back or anything. I think they're having fun."
The farmyard is also home to rare Gloucester cattle, sheep, chickens and ducks. The property originally belonged to Swinley's mother's family, but was sold off in the early 20th century.
Swinley bought it back decades ago. Among her first animals was Freddie's great, great, great-grandfather. She's had a Jack Russell from the same line ever since, but Freddie, she says, is likely the last.
His horse-riding legacy, however, is likely to carry on, inspiring all other eager terriers to hop on a horse, and go for a ride around a farm.
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