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So you want to go horse camping

So, You Want To Go Horse Camping.

By:  Tom Thomas, President, Back Country Horsemen of Pisgah

Pisgah National ForestNorth Carolina

So, you want to go horse camping.  Well, I have enjoyed the out of doors for over 50 years backpacking, canoeing, cross-country skiing, mountaineering, and yes more than anything else horse back riding and can honestly say, “ The best way to improve the many vistas, valleys, waterfalls, and wildlife you will encounter is to see it from the top of a horse or mule.”  So, if horse camping is what you are pondering, congratulations. 

Here are some suggestions to make your horse camping an all around success. Remember you and your horse need to be prepared for the wilderness area. So think about some of the things you may encounter while at camp or on the trail and practice them on familiar ground.  Use common sense, which sometimes is not so common, and remove as many surprises for you and your horse as possible before you make your first trip. So where do you start?


Special Note: With the growing number of trail riders comes a concern for conservation and protection of land use and the watershed you are riding through.    From the first day a horseman steps his/her horse on to a National, or State Forest or Park they must be aware that they are responsible for the proper use and care of the resource.  To abuse it will certainly mean we will lose the use of it.


Basics:  For the wilderness rider:  Yes, that’s you. First, take the time to read.  There are many good books and flyers on trail riding, camping, safety and trail etiquette. Reading and practical application at your home can take you from being a green horn (accident waiting to happen) to being a novice (ready for the adventure). Then, secure a map of the area you plan to camp and ride.  Make sure you know the trails designated for horses or multi-use travel.  Visit the area you plan to camp/ride in (without your horse trailer attached) and drop by the local ranger station and ask about any rules or regulations that are required by equestrians during their visit. You should always plan to camp from your horse trailer parking area before challenging backcountry camping.   When possible, contact a group or friends that ride the area regularly and see if you can tag along for a day's ride before committing to a weekend of camping and riding. Courtesy and safety go hand in hand. When riding in a group, you are responsible for the horse and rider in front of you as well as those behind.  Remember that a horse has herd instincts and anytime a rider dismounts or stops his/her horse for a drink of water, another rider should stay with them. 

Take the time to educate your horse or mule:  Horses and mules like surprises a lot less than humans. So, if your horse’s world is the pasture, barn, and show ring you will need to do some ground work before taking him/her into the forest.  Examples, If you are changing equipment saddles, adding saddlebags, breast collar, crupper, equipping a horse with panniers, do it at home in familiar surroundings.  Think about what you and your horse will experience while on the trail; a high line (picket line) in camp, hobbles, cross tying on the trail, passing mountain bikers, hikers, and other horses, stepping over or jumping over logs of varying sizes, crossing streams, trail coats being whipped around and put on during sudden down pours, the sound of a chainsaw clearing the trail ahead, are all everyday events for trail horses. Again, give it some thought and let your horse/mule experience it in a controlled environment (home pasture) where their comfort range and yours will be much higher and success and confidence will follow (God willing and the creek don’t rise).

From preaching to meddling: It’s your call but, I would highly recommend that you do not leave the trail head without a first aid kit (and the knowledge to use it) a sheath knife or pocket knife, a Bic lighter in your pocket, and a riding helmet on your head.

The range of equipment, supplies, and gadgets for trail riding and camping are endless as are the skills you can learn and use in the wilderness. . I will be glad to tell you about what works for me in other articles, if you’re interested.  I will even go from preaching to meddling if asked real nice.  I hope you find this article of use.

          Trail riding and camping are fantastic experiences for young and old. “ The only way to preserve the forest is to respect it and take care of it.”