A rider is suing a dog owner for £5m after his West Highland terrier spooked his horse on a beach causing him to sustain life-changing injuries in a fall.
Mr Koetsier, who was on holiday with his wife, claims the accident occurred because the unleashed West Highland terrier called Max ran under the horse, spooking it into bucking and throwing him to the ground. He is now suing Max’s owner, David Clifford Thomas, for £5m at the High Court in London and claims the dog should have been on a lead.
Mr Thomas, who told the court that he has owned Max since he was a puppy, has denied liability, saying that there is no reason to blame his “small, elderly and gentle” dog for the accident. He added that there was no requirement for his dog to be on a lead while on the beach as local bylaws allow dogs to run freely.
On the day of the incident in 2018, Mr Koetsier had joined the ride arranged by Nolton Stables in Haverfordwest, taking riders along the mile-long Druidston Haven beach. The court was informed that Mr Koetsier is an experienced horse rider and owned a pony as a child and competed as an adult. He rode Dutch warmblood sport horses from when he was a teenager until his forties.
Lawyers for Mr Koetsier said that the riders saw Mr Thomas’s dog running off its lead on the sand and as they began a second canter Max ran barking towards the group from behind. Mr Koetsier’s horse, Bonfire, was stationary when the small white dog went underneath him from behind, Matthew Chapman QC said in written submissions. “Bonfire reacted explosively to the presence of the dog,” Mr Chapman said. The horse’s head went down “while he jumped from the ground and flung up his hind legs in a violent and propulsive buck”.
The rider was “violently propelled out of the saddle, over Bonfire and on to the ground. The claimant landed on or about the top of his head and suffered catastrophic personal injury.” The incident left Mr Koetsier experiencing spasms and limited the use of his hand which his legal team said has “substantially impaired” his mobility and ability to care for himself. He now uses a wheelchair when outside – but he can walk short distances with a frame, his lawyers said.
Andrew Arentsen, the barrister representing Mr Thomas, said there was no reason for the dog to have been on a lead as Druidston beach is regularly used by dog walkers to exercise pets freely. He denied that the terrier was aggressive and said “Max has always been a friendly, gentle and social dog”.
Mr Koetsier is also suing the business that owns the stables, LJP Owen, for allegedly allowing the group to ride a second time after Max had been running off his lead. “The claimant is an experienced rider and had, up until the point when he was thrown, been able to control and manage Bonfire during the course of the ride,” Mr Chapman told the court.
Appearing for LJP Owen, Charles Woodhouse told the court that Bonfire was comfortable around dogs. The company, which serves 6,000 customers a year, keeps dogs loose at the stables so horses can acclimatise to them and any which are not comfortable around dogs would be sold.