Going camping can be fun for the entire family or a group of friends, especially if it’s a backcountry camping adventure. To get to a camping site away from the usual crowds in areas where backcountry camping is permitted, you can either hike or go on horseback. Here are 10 tips for going horse camping.
1. Find a Horse-Friendly Campground
Before taking off on a camping trip with your horses, you need to find a horse-friendly campground to visit.
- Check the National Park Service website for those that allow horses and backcountry, or dispersed camping.
- Find a horse council in your state and check their website for information.
- Check the state park system where you live for parks that accommodate horses and backcountry camping.
- Search “horse camping” on your web browser to find organizations that list places offering trails and camps for those riding horses or mules.
Many locations that offer backcountry camping are primitive sites that only have a pit toilet, a water source, and a place to park. Some parks offer trailheads, which is a place to launch your trip with your horses. They usually don't require reservations because they are on a first come, first served basis.
You may find that some parks offer equine camps with:
- Hitching posts
- Water throughs
- Bear boxes
- Fire pits
- Picnic tables
For the best portable horse corral check out this article
2. Exercise Your Horse
Use these tips to make sure your horse is ready for long trail rides between campsites.
- Start conditioning your horse as soon as possible, so they are in shape for the trail.
- Find an area with a steep grade to take them on brisk climbs.
- When you take him exercising, keep him working until he breaks a sweat, but don’t overexert him.
- Get yourself ready as well because long rides can stress knees, chafe thighs, and be hard on your back.
3. Train Your Horse
Your horse should be ready for anything that you come across on the trail, and you should know how to handle them. Start the training several weeks or months in advance of your trip.
- Learn to control your horse with neck reining, especially if you need a pack horse to carry the supplies for your trip.
- Teach the horse plow reining, which is also known as directional reining. You will have a rein in both hands, pulling on the right one to go right and the left one to turn left.
- Teach your horse how to handle being on the trail with bicycles if the trails you’ll be on are multiple use trails.
- Train a horse to carry packs for your supplies. Start off with packs that are empty and gradually add weight so they can get used to them. If they can carry a person on their back, they should easily learn to carry full packs.
- Teach them to handle hobbling or picketing if you decide to use it on the trip, so the horse is comfortable with it.
4. Break-in Equipment
Making sure your horse is familiar with the equipment you’re taking is important to keep them calm while camping. Along with the items, they will carry, train them to calmly load into a horse trailer if they are not used to being in one.
- Check to see if the saddle still fits correctly if your horse has lost weight over the winter.
- Don’t take a new saddle on the trip, but break it in first.
- Shoe your horse several weeks before the camping trip so they can break-in their shoes.
- Introduce new equipment to the horse, like saddle bags, saddle, etc. Their sense of smell is very sensitive, and they could balk at something brand new on their back.
- Train them to load into a trailer if they are not used to being in one or load into a different trailer if you’re not taking your own.
- Take them for rides in the trailer so they can get familiar with the movements, so they know how to brace themselves and not get injured while riding in one.
5. Packing for Horses
There are supplies you will need to take on the camping trip for your horse so they are fed well and can be taken cared of if something should happen while on the trail.
- Water – Even if the campsites have water sources, take your own for both you and your horse. Plan to take about 10 to 12 gallons per day.
- Extra Equipment – Take extra reins, a halter, girth, lead rope, and a saddle pad in case something is broken, left behind, or damaged on the trail.
- Take horse blankets and rain sheets in case the weather turns bad, or it gets cold.
- Tack repair tools.
- Grooming supplies and sponges to wipe down your horse when you camp for the evening.
- Hay for feeding. Take enough for each day you will be camping, plus enough for the ride to and from the campsite.
- Canvas water and feed bags since they are foldable.
- Duct tape.
- Hoof boots.
- Muck fork and bucket.
- Fly spray and fly mask.
- Gatorade – The taste may help your horse drank more water to ensure they stay hydrated. Start them off by giving it to them at home every day for a week or so before you go horse camping. Use the regular, not the diet, variety.
6. Pack a Horse’s First Aid Kit
Along with a first aid kit for the humans on the trip, you should also have one for the horses. There are several items it should contain, so you are prepared for most emergencies.
- Self-Sticking Bandages – They can keep dressings in place in case of cuts, or they can help provide support for stable wraps if your horse is hurt on the trail.
- Digital Thermometer – If your horse isn’t feeling well, you should find out if he has a temperature that indicates a condition requiring immediate care.
- Antiseptic Wound Cleaner – The cleaner will help prevent infections if the horse gets a cut or puncture wound.
- Cutters – You should include wire or bolt cutters in case your horse gets into a barbed wire fence.
- Stable Wraps – To protect the horse’s legs.
- Gauze, Cotton Pads, Gamgee Cloths – In case of cuts or wounds, these items can go under stable wraps or bandages as dressings. Pack them in resealable plastic bags to keep them clean and dry.
- Zinc Oxide Cream – This cream can be used for minor cuts on the horse and to heal sunburned noses on the humans.
- Epsom Salts – Take a package of salts to help draw out infections in both the horse and anyone in your group in case they are hurt while camping.
- Antiseptic Cream – The cream will help keep smaller cuts or wounds from becoming infected. You can use it as well.
- Vet Book – Include a book to look up symptoms or how to treat wounds while you’re on the trail.
7. Grab a Map
If you don't plan to stay each night in a base camp, print out or request a trail map, so you don't end up getting lost on your camping adventure. Some trails may be marked, but many may not be if you’re dispersed camping.
8. Keep Horse Isolated
If the corral where you’re camping as other horses in it, don’t turn your horse out with the others. He may not rest well because he is unfamiliar with those horses and he will spend his time getting acquainted with them and discovering his place in the herd.
One way to isolate him while in a corral is to leave him stand tied overnight. However, make sure he is used to being stand tied by training him before leaving on the trip.
9. Maintain Routine
The best way to settle a horse in an unfamiliar corral or area is to maintain their daily routine. Feed them at the same time, brush them down in the evening to help them relax, and take the items they are used to using, like their blanket, feed and water buckets.
If you’re going to buy canvas buckets to take on the trail since they are foldable, use them at home for a week or two so your horse will get used to them. If they are unfamiliar with something, they may not want to use it.
10. Check Your Vehicles
The last thing you need to happen is to break down on the way to the camping site. Make sure the tow vehicle is ready for a trip by checking the tires, motor, and having the oil changed if necessary.
Also, make sure the horse trailer is ready as well. See that it is clean, pack the water, grain, hay, and your horse’s supplies in it. Make your horse a soft bed for lying down if it rains while you’re away and you’re staying at a base camp.
By using these 10 tips, you will have everything you need for an extended horse camping experience. The tips can help you worry less about the horses and concentrate on having fun with your family or friends.
Fred is the editor of Equine Ridge. He grew up raising horses and has been riding, training, and competing for almost four decades. Fred started out performing on the AQHA and PHBA circuits. Fred trained other competitors in English and Western riding disciplines and today offers free riding lessons to youth who would otherwise not be able to afford lessons. When not working with horses he can be found backpacking or trying to brew the perfect cup of coffee. Email Fred at email@example.com