Last Updated on February 25, 2022 by Allison Price
Tips to help you prepare for your horse camping trip
Camping with horses is a great way to relax and enjoy the outdoors. The solitude, the open air, and the beautiful views that separate you from the crowds and traffic can soothe the soul. It could be the wildlife along the trail, or the birds calling high overhead while you sip coffee and watch the sunrise… all while enjoying the company of your favorite equine friend.
Camping is a rewarding experience, regardless of what it is. It requires planning and practice. There are details to take care of your horses. What can you do to keep your horses safe at night? What happens if a horse becomes sick in the backcountry How do you ensure enough water and food?
Camping is about simplicity and returning to nature. You must consider other factors when adding horses to your camping experience.
Robert Eversole, founder and CEO of TrailMeister.com, an online resource for trail riding and horse camping. He is based in Spokane.
These are the top tips from our sources for horse camping.
Eversole says, “Any trip starts long before we load our trailer.” Because of people’s hectic schedules, many have a time limit for when they can travel. Destinations can be based on what you want to see and where you are able to drive. You might want to ride part of the day at a guest ranch. Or do a backcountry adventure?”
Your choices are also affected by the time of year. For example, says Eversole, “summertime rules out places like deserts.”
Another factor is weather. He says that there is no bad weather. It’s just the wrong equipment. “I learned how to ride in the rain by living in Seattle.
Eversole loves to say that snow can make things “sportier.”
You need to be prepared for any weather conditions wherever you travel. Find areas that meet your criteria.
Consider the trail conditions and how far your riding will take you in a given day. Consider who might be on the trail, and whether they mind. Trail traffic could include anyone from motorized vehicles to riders. Are you ready for hikers and mountain bikers who may approach your trail from behind?
Eversole recommends that you prepare for these situations by riding a bicycle around your paddocks, or carrying a backpack while performing barn chores. Before you go out, it is important to de-sensitize your horse.
Is your horse ready?
You need to make sure that your horse is well-trained for the tasks you will be asking him. Eversole believes that a horse who enjoys riding on trails should be able to perform any task. Our horses can’t choose what they do every day. It is very important to me that my horses have fun.
Conditioning is a process that involves keeping horses limber over the winter, so their first trail rides (or trail) are not too difficult.
He compares the experience of taking an in-of-shape horse camping with asking a human to run marathons without training.
There are also the logistics of paperwork. It can take several weeks to get the necessary veterinary checks, Coggins test, brand inspections and any other paperwork. Eversole says, “I keep them all inside a large manila folder in the car.”
Additional Resources: Horse Camping 101
Check out our Horse Camping 101 article for more information about planning your camping adventure with horses.
- Horse Camping 101 – Vacations with Accommodations
- Horse Camping 101 – Vacations at Horse Camps
- Horse Camping 101 – Packing in Remote Areas
First Aid For All
Without cell phone coverage, camping requires a higher level of health responsibility than what is required at home. Eversole says that horses may need to learn basic skills from their veterinarian or take an equine first aid class. How to clean and bandage a wound. What would you do if your horse had a wound?
Eversole says, “I rode with Bute (the non-steroidal antiinflammatory drugs phenylbutazone & flunixin meglumine), in my first-aid kits. Bute and Banamine took a while for my vet (before prescribing them) to feel confident in me and allow me to take them with me.” “The majority of people don’t talk to their vets about these matters.”
It is vital to provide basic first aid for all people. He says, “In every class that I teach, I ask who holds a valid CPR and first-aid card.” “What we do recreationally… falls under the definition of extreme sport.”
Riders must ensure that they are able to care for their horses and other passengers on the trip. You should also wear a helmet for every ride.
Eversole recommends that you check the dates of your first-aid kit and replace any items that have expired or worn out.
Equine Restraint Options
You will need to confine your horses once you have reached the campsite. Eversole says that there are many ways to confine horses. If your horses aren’t properly trained, anything can be dangerous or cruel.
Mary Kane, a Maple Valley rider, says, “Practice at home first and teach your horse how to safely stand tied and have patience.” Mary Kane is a Back Country Horsemen of America (BCHA) officer who works to preserve public lands for equestrian use.
These are common restraint and confinement options:
For traveling, you can attach one of the many lightweight portable metal corrals that can be attached to your horse trailer and then set them up at your destination.
Electric portable fencing
This system is quick and easy to use. It also includes temporary posts that can be used as a barrier, and a charger. Kane says to think about the wildlife you may encounter before you use this method. Some animals might not be familiar with hot tape and could run right past it, allowing your horses escape.
These systems come with a 4-foot pole, which attaches to the trailer and extends outside. Your horse can still move and graze while being tethered. Kane suggests that horses be tethered shorter at night and unsupervised to ensure they don’t lose a leg.
This involves attaching horses or feed bags to a rope that is stretched between two trees or poles. The highline should be attached carefully to live trees to avoid damage. Eversole says this restraint technique is “the gold standard in horse camping.” But, it is important to practice this restraint method. Horses can get hung up or a knot breaks.
Kane says, “Never tie a saddled horses to a highline.”
To stop horses from moving fast, this mechanical restraint involves tethering one foot to the other. First, you must teach your horses how to accept them. Eversole says that although they are wonderful, they often slow horses down until they decide to go fast. Eversole uses hobbles in backcountry to allow his horses to graze while being supervised.
Horse corrals are often available in both public and private parks. Kane suggests that you go to a place (such as a state park with horse campgrounds), where there are safe corrals.
Because confined horses can cause damage to the land through overgrazing or trampling vegetation, many facilities (public and private) prohibit campers from setting up portable or temporary corrals. Highlining is not allowed on guest ranches because it could cause damage to trees. Eversole states that permanent corrals may not be safe in other areas because they are too “overused” and “unloved”. Know the rules and regulations governing confinement in your area before you leave on your trip. Also, review your options.
Camping and Horse Health
We quickly forget about cell phone coverage as we travel down the trail on horseback and into the backcountry. Jack Gillette Jr., DVM of Wildflower Veterinary Services in Graham, Washington, believes that anything can happen on the trail. He advocates for client education and common sense. He is an active member of Back Country Horsemen of America, and offers a seminar on backcountry equine first aid to BCHA members and the horse-owning public.
Here are his tips for dealing with common horse health problems that may arise on the trail.
ColicAside from getting your horse back to civilisation as soon as possible, he said that there is not much you can do. Most people believe that walking (the colicky horse), will make it better. Most often, you will end up with a tired and colicky horse. Pony the horse out, or ride another horse and lead the horse. This will help the horse.
Carrying veterinarian-prescribed flunixin meglumine (Banamine) in your first-aid kit for this situation is also helpful unless you can get the horse to where he can receive veterinary care. Talk to your veterinarian to discuss delivery options, contraindications and what to do if your horse is suffering from colic.
Wounds “Have a variety of wraps (e.g. nonstick pads [such like Telfa], self adhesive flexible bandage tape [Vetrap], and cotton elastic cloth tape [Elastikon]), in your first-aid kits,” Gillette says. Apply Nolvasan ointment to the wound, then cover it with Telfa pads. Wrap with Vetrap and brown gauze. Use Elastikon to cover the wound.
He suggests that you clean any wounds that are difficult to bandage. Next, “use (aluminum Hydroxide spray), an oil-based occlusive spray that allows the drainage to take place but also keeps bugs and dirt out.” Once you are free, you can go to the vet for antibiotics.
Eye injury The horse owner must take care of these issues immediately. Although you can clean the eye with human eyewash, it is important to consult a veterinarian immediately if the eye is sore or closed.
Exhaustion Equine exertional, or tying up is a condition that affects the muscle and can be caused by poor conditioning, electrolyte imbalance, or poor conditioning. Gillette advises that if your horse seems tired, you should get off. Do not continue if they are having a higher heart rate or respiratory rate (normally between 28-44 beats per hour, but you know your horse’s resting rate). Don’t force them to work, but let them rest. Horses that are too hard pushed or out of shape are a common example. Our animals should be allowed to do the same for us as we would.
Gastral ulcers “Ulcers don’t start on a trail ride,” Gillette says. What happens is that an animal with ulcers becomes overstressed and then things get worse. It can lead to ulcers when acid from the stomach’s lower section bounces up onto the stomach’s upper squamous cells layer, which is more susceptible to damage than that of the lower.
Horses that aren’t born with ulcers, but are nervous or have an empty stomach can also experience this. Gillette recommends giving forage to horses in all instances before you do any strenuous activities or riding.
Insect bite reactionsGillette suggests spraying permethrin-7% to repel biting insects. To treat insect hypersensitivity, he carries antihistamines with him on his rides.
This condition can affect many animals during hot weather. Gillette says that horses should be allowed to drink at every stream they cross. Avoid allowing horses to drink too much water or extremely cold water at once. Allow them to drink for a while and then stop. Take them back to drink some more.
To disguise their water, you might want to add electrolyte powder to their water three to four days in advance.
Sunburn Horses with white faces or noses can be more susceptible to sunburn. Gillette says that in such cases, you can apply human sunblock lotion to prevent skin burns. A UV-light-blocking flymask can be used to ride, as well as a “nose apron.” Horses with pink skin are more likely to develop squamous cells carcinoma (cancer) around their eyes and other areas.
Some types of toxic plants, such as St. John’s Wort and Buckwheat, or medications, can increase sun sensitivity. Plan ahead and be aware of all possible risk factors.
What is the most important first-aid practice we can do at home? Gillette says, “Teach your animals to stand still while being treated.”
You can also choose your camping location to determine the best feeding options. Hay must be certified as weed-free in federal areas and public lands. Eversole states, “If you’re in an area that requires it and your hay hasn’t been certified and tagged and you’re caught by officials, it’s a big fine.”
He says that he likes to keep his feed consistent because drastic feed changes can cause digestive upset. “If I don’t have hay at home, I buy certified hay in the area where I’m going. I then start to feed it to my horses at least a few days before we leave so that it doesn’t cause any upset.”
Forage options that are weed-free include compressed hay, hay cubes and pellets. Other feeds, such as concentrates and supplements, will depend on what you supply at home. Again, it is important to keep things consistent. Eversole is known to carry a few pounds worth of sweet feed to help his horses eat well and top-dress their medications.
Eversole says horses riding trail require 10-15 gallons of water per day. This is why you should make sure to call ahead to check water availability at the park.
He says, “Find out whether it’s safe for people and animals–and if it is plentiful.” You don’t want to have to stop a trip because there isn’t enough water at your campsite for three heads of stock. For emergencies, I always have 90 gallons of water with me (in my trailer). This allows me to mix water from home and water from the campsite, so it tastes the same.
Leave No Trace
You must also consider the management of manure. Back Country Horsemen adheres to the Leave No Trace ethics, which requires campers to evaluate their impact on the backcountry. Kane states that manure management is an important component of this, especially for horse camps with newcomers.
Manure bunkers are available at some campsites. You can use them to dump your manure. Kane says, “You must take all the manure home.” The manure must go somewhere. Ten people with their horses and their horses will be camping every day. The manure and (spent hay) accumulations are going to cause a lot of problems.
Kane states that some horse campers keep used feed bags and reuse them to clean up after the horses. You can then take the unwanted waste home and compost it, rather than leaving a messy and difficult environment. She says that this is also true for parking lots and day rides.
You can manage manure if you camp in the backcountry, rather than in your trailer. Kane says that this means spreading the manure around so it doesn’t build up. Kane says, “Don’t let campers come in after you.”
Don’t forget to make sure your horse trailer is safe for transport. Is the floor solid? Are all the taillights working? Are you able to change tires and how old the tires are? Are your spares for truck and trailer in good condition? Get your trailer and truck checked and serviced before you go camping.
Kane recommends that newbies to horse camping do a dry run. She says that some people enjoy driving to the area where they want to camp first, to see what it is like and to get a feel of things. You can also join a group of people more experienced than yourself to go on a trail ride or camping trip for the first time.
For example, BCHA.org has regular trail rides and overnight camping trips for Back Country Horsemen chapters.
You must think about everything that your horse and you need in order to have fun and stay safe while camping with horses. Horse camping can be a relaxing and exhilarating way to get away from the everyday grind.