Spring is the perfect season to go camping on horseback. In most places, it’s not unbearably hot and dusty yet, but the temperature has warmed up enough to dry out muddy trails. Flowers and trees are budding and forests are full of beautiful greenery. Even desert plants are showing some color before enduring summer months.
What better way to enjoy this gorgeous time of year than making memories with family, friends, and your favorite animals? All across the country, state and national parks are opening up for camping and beating back brush on overgrown trails. Ranches are starting their weekend trip programs and if you own your own horses, they’re probably as fresh as the grass is and ready to get out of the barn.
Pack up your saddles, grab your gear, and pick a new destination to explore. Whether you’re an avid trail rider or heading out for the first time, it’s worth brushing up on tips and tricks for camping with horses.
Horse riding and camping may seem like a walk in the park (or at least a pretty relaxing vacation), but the trip is actually very physically demanding. Even if you ride regularly, you’ll want to make sure you’re in good shape before you depart. This means taking some extra long weekend rides at the barn and checking your abilities to complete challenging hikes.
In addition to fitness, you should prepare for hours in the saddle — even for seasoned riders, long trail days can be hard on your seat. Other physical aspects to consider include making sure you won’t get boot sores, having plenty of non-chafing clothing, packing ample sunscreen, and avoiding dealing with annoyances like dirt and dust in your glasses or contacts.
For peace of mind, make sure you’ve double and triple checked your destination and route, Understand what amenities are available, what restrictions are present on trails, and where you plan to spend your days. You can even read forums to find popular destinations or get a head’s up about weird rules or situations.
For Your Horses:
First and foremost, remember that your horses need to be in shape, too. They’re huge animals, but that doesn’t mean they’re indestructible. Even the most seasoned trail horse will have some kinks to work out after a winter of infrequent rides. To get your horse ready to for camping, make sure you’re pushing his or her fitness level in frequent rides, both long and short. If possible, head out on terrain like you’ll be camping in — if you plan to climb hills or you know the trail is uneven, look for something similar nearby to test your horse on.
As you’re getting your horse in shape, make sure they’re sound enough for the trail. A horse who spooks at unknown noise or unfamiliar animals won’t have a good time on the trails, and it won’t be fun for you, either. Introduce any new items in a controlled environment and expose your horse to as much as possible, including loud people, bicyclists, and moving water.
Finally, for your horse’s safety, learn about local flora and fauna that may pose a risk. If your horse gets stung or nibbles on a plant they shouldn’t, it can delay or derail your trip altogether.
For Your Gear:
Horseback riding requires a lot of equipment. Camping requires a lot of equipment. Ergo, horseback camping requires A LOT of equipment. The best advice we can give you is to minimize what you bring with you, but not at the expense of safety.
One place you never want to cut corners is your first aid kit. When you’re on unfamiliar terrain dealing with unpredictable animals (both humans and horses), injuries are very possible. You want to be prepared for cuts, bruises, strains, bites, and stings. So while cutting back on your first aid gear isn’t recommended, some items are multi-use; I can say from experience that vet wrap works just as well on humans as it does on horses.
Make sure to pack layers. Spring weather is fickle, and depending on the area and altitude, it can go from summer-like warmth to overcast and snowing in the space of a few hours. Be prepared with layers for both you and your horse.
Finally, whether you’re planning on RV camping in a paved spot with hookups and all the amenities or just pitching a tent by a stream bank, choose the right equipment for the job. An RV allows you to pack more and have easier meal prep, but you might be more inclined to get down and dirty. Either way, make sure you have a safe and secure place for your horses and be aware of any predators that might be in the area. That way, everyone returns home safe and sound for more adventures.