Horse Camping Basics

by Matt

Ah, fresh air! The breeze in the pine trees!

A trail winding through the hills, to the perfect campsite, a place to pitch your tent beside a babbling stream. You’ll go fishing, and in a cast-iron skillet over a Boy Scout quality campfire, cook your fresh-caught dinner with simple satisfaction. After you make up your horse’s pen, of course.

What, you’d go camping and not take your horse? That’s just mean. Your horse wants to go visit new and wild locations, too. He’s not the only one who could use a change from the old arena and the old paddock.

Horse camping isn’t just for hearty survivalists and Man From Snowy River re-enactors. With some preparation, training, and conditioning, you and your horse (and some pals) can ride off into the sunset too. Here are a few things to consider

Accommodations: We all know you’re going to get the fanciest tent you can find, with a living room and a separate bedroom, so that’s taken care of. What about your horse? Experienced campers can set up a tie-line: a rope tied between two trees, higher than the horse’s head, that has a sliding lead rope attached to it. Others bring along a portable corral, electric tape with a battery charger, or, if your trailer is nearby, corral panels. With any scenario, be certain that it’s something your horse will respect. Horses with a history of crashing through fences are not good candidates for a portable corral, for example.

Training: Would your show jumper flounder in a trail class? Sometimes, we’re so busy teaching our horse show-ring etiquette, we forget about practical, real-life skills. Like balancing on steep hills, dealing with the utterly terrifying sound of hooves on a wooden bridge, or crossing railroad tracks. Opening and closing gates by leg-yielding sounds simple enough, but without practice, many horses refuse to get close enough to the gate to let a rider reach it safely. And then there’s the ability to stand patiently, which sounds simple in practice, but evades many horses.

Lots of trail riding, plus practicing with arena trail hazards like bridges, is a necessity. Riding in close company with other horses, nose-to-tail or side-by-side, should also be practiced. Make sure your horse will leg-yield, back up, and halt, even in stressful conditions.

Conditioning: An hour in an arena learning flying lead changes is hard work, but it isn’t the same as all day on the trail — especially if there are mountains involved. (Keep in mind that your definition of a mountain and your horse’s definition may differ). Look for a conditioning program that builds up stamina. Long trail rides, with intermittent trotting and cantering sets, are a good start. Endurance training guides and websites can give you some insight into how much conditioning your horse might need for the journey you’re considering. Keep hooves in mind as well: rougher terrain and longer rides may wear down shoes more quickly, or require a different kind of shoe altogether.

Horse c amping requires a great deal of planning, that much is for certain. But the satisfaction derived from getting out there and roughing it with your equine bestie, at least for a few days, can definitely be worth it. Don’t worry — the arena will still be there when you get home. But like any relaxing vacation, you and your horse might find yourselves dreaming of the carefree trail while you’re back in the ring grinding out those twenty-meter circles!

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