As many of you know, I grew up riding and showing horses up and down the East Coast. Of all the breeds of dogs, the two most popular in the horse crowd seem to be the Pembroke Welsh Corgi and the Jack Russell Terrier, and I have spent countless hours with hundreds of these dogs at the barn, horse shows, or horse races (my parents bred race horses, and my hometown of Camden, SC is known for its history rich in both show and race horses).
One of my favorite events at many horse races is not the horse racing itself (well, I do love that!), but instead the Jack Russell Terrier races, held between horse races at some events. These races are fun, fast, and competitive as Jack Russells fly at warp speeds down the track towards the finish line! While I have never owned a Jack Russell that participated in racing, many of my friends enter their Jack Russell's each year at the Colonial Cup Steeplechase in
(From left to right: Lonny, Ashley, Miss Muddy Paws, Mary Katherine, Mark)
Racing is the only terrier trial event I have ever witnessed in person, and it is extremely exciting from a spectator standpoint. Just like with Thoroughbred horses, there are two types of races for Jack Russells: flat and steeplechase (also known as hurdles). The Jack Russell Terrier Club of America (JRTCA) sanctions numerous trials throughout the year all around the country, and horse races also hold their own events in the same format and style as the JRTCA races.
The format of the race is very interesting. The track is a minimum of 150 feet long, usually 200+ feet (the length recommended by the JRTCA), and is a straight track with a starting box at one end (the dogs are separated into their own ‘gates’ much like horse races) and a stack of straw bales at the opposite end with a hole in the middle (directly behind the hole is the finish line) of the bales. A lure, typically an enticingly scented piece of fur, is attached to a piece of string and pulled along by a Lure machine that the dogs chase to the finish line. Some races require muzzles for the safety of both the dogs and the human catchers at the end of the course, but other races have optional muzzles for non-aggressive dogs. Before the race begins the dogs are allowed to see and smell the Lure while in their starting box, this excites the dogs and motivates them to chase the lure down the course. The race begins when the starting box opens and the terriers’ race down the course (it’s incredibly exciting to watch them jump in the steeplechase races). The first dog to cross the finish line (the finish line is immediately behind the hay bales and is the entrance to the catch pen) is declared the winner. To make it even more exciting, the first dog to cross the finish line is not always the first to enter the hole in the hay bales! Each race may be a series of heats, semis, and finals. A championship race is often held in each division and is a competition between the winners of the flat and hurdle races. To qualify for the championship those dogs must have run in both the flat and steeplechase races.
If you’ve never seen a Jack Russell Terrier race first hand I encourage you to attend one! They are a blast to watch, and it is incredible to watch these feisty small dogs do what they were bred for! A real sense of a prey drive really comes out when you witness these races, and they give dog owners a better understanding and appreciation for the history of the breed.