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To complain after my mum and dog were nearly run off a sheer cliff?

(23 Posts)
RevoltingPeasant Sun 24-Jul-11 21:20:20

This evening, my DP, mum, sister, me, and mum's dog were walking in a National Trust site by the sea. We were walking along a national trail which runs through the NT property. The Trust grazes Dartmoor ponies on this site.

As we got to the bit where the ponies were, there were signs saying 'Ponies in field - keep dogs under close control' with a picture of the ponies. That was it. We presumed that ponies might be spooked by dogs, or that irresponsible dog owners might allow their dogs to chase them. So we put the dog on the lead and walked her on the trail, which went right through their field. The trail is quite wide, and we walked towards the cliff side, to keep away from the ponies and give them a wide berth.

As we got about halfway past the ponies, one separated itself from the herd and came towards us as though to say hello. We presumed it was used to people trying to feed it. However, it began butting its head at the dog - instinctively, we moved back. Very, very quickly, the entire herd began cantering at us, 'herding' us to the edge of the cliff - in particular, my mum, who was holding the dog's lead.

It was very scary; the cliff is sheer and drops straight down to the sea. If you fell off, you'd almost certainly die. We have always read that if you are attacked by livestock you should let your dog off the lead to fend for itself, so we did this. Possibly the wrong thing, but we had literally about 2-3 seconds to decide what to do. The ponies continued to try to herd the dog off the cliff; it was definitely deliberate. The rest of us dodged through them and ran towards the gate out of their field, calling the dog, who luckily managed to get around the ponies and run after us.

I have absolutely no beef with the ponies, who are wild animals behaving naturally. But I am ticked off with the National Trust. After we got out of the field, a local resident approached us to ask if we were okay and said that in fact, several dogs have been killed in recent years this way. Apparently they used to keep a bull in this cliff-edge field but stopped after it drove an elderly man over the cliff.

AIBU to think that given this, the Trust should really put up signs warning dog owners that the ponies may try to drive them over the cliff? IME, ponies are shy, skittish animals, like sheep; I'd always take care not to harm them, but I did not expect them to attack like this and don't think that many average dog owners would.

Or were we just really dim-witted???

takethisonehereforastart Sun 24-Jul-11 21:26:23

If there were no warning signs after several incidents like this then I think you would be within your rights to complain and ask why not.

From the sign you have described I would expect most people to assume the same as you did.

I'm glad that you are all safe and unharmed though.

DogsBestFriend Sun 24-Jul-11 21:26:41

Jesus! Thank goodness you're all okay. You must be very shaken, poor things.

I would - and indeed have - interpreted such signs just as you did. And I'd be raising merry bloody hell with the National Trust and whatever I wrote to them I'd cc to the editor of the local paper too. All it takes is a new sign telling people to beware and that dogs are not to be taken through the area owing to the risk to them from ponies. It ain't rocket science, is it!

HumphreyCobbler Sun 24-Jul-11 21:28:43

Christ that sounds appalling. There really should be a warning.

ddubsgirl Sun 24-Jul-11 21:29:14

i would complain,at least put some srong fencing up at the edge and better signs,or block the path off to the ponies so you can still walk past but they cant get to you.

onepieceofcremeegg Sun 24-Jul-11 21:30:09

Sounds really terrifying. Hope all of you are ok, especially your poor mum an d the dog.

RevoltingPeasant Sun 24-Jul-11 21:31:37

Thanks DBF and take - also sorry, just realised that was pretty much a Dickens novel in length, that post!! blush

Yeah, I am having horrific visions of our poor hound with her back feet 18 inches (seriously) from the cliff edge, surrounded. We let her off not to save ourselves but because we honestly thought she'd be better off running unhindered....

I think I will complain because this is on a national walking trail (SW coastal path) with high foot traffic. They should not have the trail running through such a place, or the NT should fence off the cliff edge - or at least frickin' warn people....

GreenEyesandHam Sun 24-Jul-11 21:33:15

If you're dim witted so am I because I'd have thought the same as you.

I would advise them of your experience and strongly urge that they fence off the path or change their notices

RitaMorgan Sun 24-Jul-11 21:35:10

Surely this trail is just not suitable for dogs then? YANBU, the sign was completely inadequate.

You did the right thing letting the dog go though - there have been dogwalkers killed by cows in similar situations.

Backinthebox Sun 24-Jul-11 21:37:58

I'm a horse owner, and I wouldn't walk through a field of horses I did not know. I especially would not walk through a field containing a herd of wild horses. I wouldn't walk through a field of cows either. Large animals are unpredictable.

Farmers do have a responsibility to ensure that any livestock turned out on a public right of way have not got a history of aggression to walkers and dogs, but I am not sure if a National Trail constitutes a public right of way or if it is a privately owned piece of land that the owner allows the public to walk over.

It is worth bringing it to the attention of the National Trust that you had a very scary experience - if it is a bridleway or public footpath then at least there is something in writing to show that there is a history of aggression should it happen again. If it is a privately owned piece of land though, it may well be that the National Trust show their responsibility by closing off the path altogether when the ponies are grazing there.

RevoltingPeasant Sun 24-Jul-11 21:41:30

Back sorry, I did say, but it was buried in my enormous post! - this is a national walking trail, to wit, the South West Coastal Path. So although I don't know if it's exactly a public right of way, it is at least a permissive footpath - and one which lots and lots of people will be walking on, some with dogs. I think the NT would need to re-route the path, as national trails like that have to be kept continuous (sometimes by adopting extremely torturous routes!).

Also, ponies are not that enormous, and I'd just assumed that because they were in this well-used field, they'd be okay.

Backinthebox Sun 24-Jul-11 21:52:29

RevoltingPeasant, I've done a bit of digging, and the National Trails are all indeed public rights of way, which is different in law to a permissive right of way. (I live in the square mile in the country with more rights of way than any other. I know about these things grin.) So the land owner could actually be prosecuted if they have known aggressive animals on land with paths running through it. For an animal to be known to be aggressive there has to be a history of complaints, not just a local saying 'them 'orses allus does that there chasin' o' dogs!'

To make life easier and to ensure that National Trails are as safe as possible, the National Trust Health and Safety executive has a helpline to make complaints here I'd be inclined to ring it.

exoticfruits Sun 24-Jul-11 21:54:03

It sounds horrific. My brother was kicked by a New Forest Pony when he was a DC. It needs a stronger warning-people don't realise. Glad you are OK.

perplexedpirate Sun 24-Jul-11 21:57:33

I was walking dogs on a cliff top path in Orkney once when something very similar happened to me, but with cows. It is terrifying, I hope you're feeling OK.

I would definitely complain, it sounds like it's already caused one accident, irt's only a matter of time before it happens again.

skybluepearl Sun 24-Jul-11 21:57:50

you need to let the national trust know urgently - put it in writing in an email. they might be able to rearrange things in order to avoid a more serious outcome.

RevoltingPeasant Sun 24-Jul-11 22:05:30

Thanks for digging, Back and for the number. Might send them an email tomorrow when I feel more together (just to spice things up, I have just had renal surgery and think I strained something internally when trying to get out of the field.....).

WhoseGotMyEyebrows Sun 24-Jul-11 22:17:01

Fucking hell!

Ripeberry Sun 24-Jul-11 22:20:35

If I go into a field with cattle or horses I always carry a big stick, just in case they go 'bonkers'.
You have to make yourself scary, to drive them back.
And yes, you should complain and tell them to put a sign up to say no dogs allowed.

Backinthebox Sun 24-Jul-11 22:31:34

Ripeberry, not always the best of plans. My old 17.3hh, 800kg hunter used to be kept in a field with a footpath through it. He was a fabulously friendly horse who wanted to be everyone's friend. But he had been hit with a stick as a youngster - it took a great deal of work to get him to accept me riding him with a stick (for use of swishing flies off him, holding aside brambles, pushing gates open, and canes in a showing class to be dressed correctly, etc.) Frankly, I don't think you stand a chance if you think waving a big stick at 800kg of animal is going to keep you safe if it goes bonkers. My shetland would also be inclined to take serious offence if you waved a stick at her.

rogersmellyonthetelly Mon 25-Jul-11 07:30:34

You must have been terrified. If my horse was in a field with a footpath and did something like this even once, the horse would be moved or the footpath fenced within days. Horses in a herd situation will gang up to protect the foals, and certainly a stallion would protect his mares and foals in this way, that's his job. The NT should be aware of this particularly with regards to the danger of the cliff.

vividgingerchilli Mon 25-Jul-11 07:41:30

I would write/phone/email the NT and let them know what has happened. I personally would not take a dog in a field with any animals but I do live on a farm so I know about animals, but the sign didn't say you couldn't and it sounds like they need a new sign.
Hope you are all OK.

VirtualWitch Tue 26-Jul-11 01:48:04

Would a sign on a clifftop path make you realise you might be in danger of falling off if you tripped or slipped? Well I guess than YANBU if so but personally I'm a bit wary of clipptop paths anyway. You do hear of people falling to their deaths, often after attempting to chase after dogs, so its not entirely outwith human consiciousness.

Added to that, I would never put large animals between myself and the edge of a cliff. I wouldn't need a sign to warn me of the possible dangers of this.

Furthermore, I wouldn't walk a dog in a field full of wild animals if I could possibly avoid it. Would just turn back.

Were the horses mares with foals?

I just think clifftops are inherently dangerous places to be, never mind adding wild animals and dogs into the mix, and I wouldn't need a sign to tell me this. Judging by the responses though, I appear to be unusually nervous/imaginative, which I can assure you in day to day life, I am not!

cloudydays Tue 26-Jul-11 02:08:32

That is terrifying! I wish I wasn't reading this just before bed, I think it's going to give me nightmares!

Glad to read that you all got out of the field safely, and hope you're feeling okay now. How's your mum?

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