How to Create a Memorable and Safe Overnight Experience
by Robert Eversole
Summer’s here and with it the desire to strike out with our ponies in tow. Camping with stock is an experience that will form life-long memories and is something that most riders dream about doing. In the March issue of The Northwest Horse Source we delved into the remarkable experiences that can be had once you’ve passed that magical point on the trail where the majority of other trail users turn around. This month let’s talk about how to make that experience a reality for you and your mount. If you’ve considered camping with your horse read on, this is about to get interesting!
Preparation is the key to a successful trip when you’re miles away from home. Arming yourself with knowledge of the campground, trails, and area rules will keep any unpleasant surprises to a minimum. The web is an excellent resource for this type of information (try TrailMeister.com first, it’s free and the largest source of trail info in the PNW). Local riding groups, especially the Back Country Horsemen organizations, also often have detailed knowledge of particular areas. Joining your local Back Country Horsemen chapter will not only give you access to trail information, but also help to keep those trails open to equestrians. Need another reason to join? Three words: Dutch oven cooking. But that’s another column.
Any discussion of horse camping preparation would be incomplete without a mention of the fitness of you and your mount for the task at hand. Merriam (Webster that is) defines camping as “to live temporarily in a camp or outdoors.” Temporarily living away from the comforts of home and stable, combined with a more rigorous riding schedule, is going to be a change for you and your horse both physically and mentally. Are you both up for a long day on the trail? Are you both emotionally ready for new and unexpected sights, including other trail users? While there’s no experience like trail experience, it’s best to get most of the boogers out before you venture too far into the backcountry. This is one reason why I’m a big advocate for multi-use trails in the front country. It’s much easier and safer to learn how to manage unexpected encounters when you’re close to civilization.
Now that we’ve tended to the prerequisites and are ready for that first overnight trip, learned the rules, packed the weed free feed, and have arrived at our the campsite, now what? We’ve already discussed Merriam’s view of camping, but I much prefer Stewart Edward White’s 1903 definition: “The end in view is a hot meal and a comfortable dry place to sleep.” Accommodating the basic needs of our mounts and ourselves is the essence of camping in general and is easily accomplished.
Whether your destination point is an established horse camp with all the amenities, or an isolated meadow miles into a wilderness area, tending to your horse’s needs comes first and consists of three main things: containing your horse for the night and providing water and feed. If you’re lucky, there will be a corral already set up. If not a highline is easily constructed. First, scan the area to find a suitable spot with decent footing and no nearby hazards (look up as well as all around to avoid securing your highline to a dead tree—here’s a link to detailed instructions, http://www.trailmeister.com/tips/highline.html). After your beasts are safely secured, keep them happy and content with plenty of food and water while you attend to your shelter and dinner for the night. Please keep Leave No Trace principles in mind so that the next riders to arrive feel as though they’re the first souls to ever find that spot.
After our horses have been taken care of, our accommodations can vary tremendously. From fully equipped living quarters trailers, to truck bed canopies, to absolutely delightful camps set up in the back of horse trailers that have been swept clean, it all boils down to what works best for you. After all, you’ll spend most of your trip either on the trail with your horse or at camp relaxing in a folding chair, telling tall tales and occasionally checking on the progress of dinner in the Dutch oven.
Published July 2013 Issue
Robert Eversole, ”the trail meister,” owns www.TrailMeister.com, the largest database of horse riding and camping areas in the U.S. with free trail and trailhead information, trail maps, and much more to help horse enthusiasts experience the joys of trail riding. Robert is a registered riding instructor with PATH International, a mounted search and rescue team member, and a U.S. Marine who has served on the board of the Backcountry Horsemen of Washington (BCHW). He is enjoying his new career helping fellow trail riders stay found and safe on the trail. When not on the trail, The Trail Meister resides near Spokane, WA and teaches land navigation to a wide variety of outdoor groups across the nation. For North America’s largest horse trail and camping directory, trail tips, and more, visit www.TrailMeister.com.