Camping with Horses

If you enjoy trail riding with your horse, consider camping with your horse. With a little planning, it is a lot easier that it appears. Sure! There are many folks that have the trailer with living quarters and the portable electric fencing. But those things are nice-to-have items, not have-to-have items.

If camping with your horse is on your bucket list and not an intended way of life, try it the way I once did with a borrowed trailer and a rented box truck. I do not, however, recommend you just throw ol’ Sparky on the trailer and go into the wilderness. Preparation is key. Here are some things to consider before embarking on your journey.

  1. Where are you going?
  2. Is your horse prepared?
  3. Do you have everything you need?

Where Are You Going?
I was fortunate to have a state park with horse camping right down the road. But a quick Google search with the key words Equestrian Campgrounds will unearth many horse friendly sites in your area. Reserve America recently published an article on nine of their favorites. 9 Equestrian Campgrounds for Horseback Riding. There are also other resources like that have listings for both private and public horse friendly campgrounds.

Once you have decided when and where for your adventure, make sure to learn the particulars of what is provided and what you must bring. Are there actual campsites and what amenities are provided such as running water, and/or provisions for trash management or manure management? Are there guides available or at least maps or guidebooks? Where are horses allowed and not allowed such as on bike trails or in ponds or rivers? Finally, what horse documentation must you provide upon arrival, such as health certificate, Coggins test, or rabies certificate?

Is Your Horse Prepared?

Just as you would not take a newly started three-year-old to a rated show, nor would you take your weekend trail horse to Yosemite, where the park staff recommend that any outside horses be in great physical shape and be acclimated to the high altitude prior to arrival.

The solution? To make sure that I knew what to expect from my horses before camping with them, I did a dry run right at the farm where they live. With the owner’s permission, I pitched a tent, confined my steeds using a highline, (more on that in a minute), and spent the night in a safe familiar environment. That in and of itself was a fun experience although maybe a little strange for my horses who were unaccustomed to being restricted at home. It was however delightful to fall asleep under the stars with sounds of horses shuffling and munching hay. How many of us can say that we have rolled out of bed and immediately greeted our horse and serve him his breakfast? Nothing says love like a grateful horse first thing in the morning.

For me, the dry run went very well. Everyone behaved and I learned a couple better ways to set up my confinement system for maximum reliability. But if things did go awry, I was right there to untangle any messes in a safe enclosed environment, and I would know what needs work before I was away from civilization flying without a net.

Do You Have Everything You Need?
I won’t dwell on what you decide to use for food, clothing, or shelter for yourself. Consult a scout or your local outfitter. I will however share with you some tips that I learned to provide for my horse when camping.

Bring lots of rope! If you have trees at the campsite, bring tarps for shade and even for groundcover in a sandy area. Your horse will love you for stringing a tarp between trees above him for shade and/or rain protection. If you put it at an angle, the rain will run off. If you hang it flat, the rain will collect, and you may end up with a suspended swimming pool in the morning, with horses on either side of it wondering why.

Beyond rope, you must decide how to confine or otherwise enclose your horse(s) when they are not being ridden. If ol’ Sparky is savvy to electric fencing, you may consider a portable electric fence with a solar or battery charger. For the non-electric savvy horse, consider the 12′ x ’12 Travel Stall. It provides a secure enclosed space, rails to hang tools and hay-bags, and comes with hardware that allows you to attach it to a trailer for transport.

For campsite confinement, and since I had the luxury of trees, I chose to highline my horses. Highlining allows your horse to move around and even lie down, but it doesn’t require to you to set up fencing. You would think that highlining would bother the horse and it is critical to make sure your horse is comfortable with the concept. That was the main reason that I did my dry run. But once a horse is accepting of being tied with the rope above his head, it is a great way to keep your four-legged friend safe and secure at camp.

There are two important things to know about highlining. First, the lead rope must be long enough that your horse can reach his head low enough to eat and drink, but no longer. If it is too long, he will step over it and could become tangled. Secondly, it is fine to attach the lead line to the highline so it slides, but you must put stoppers of some sort along the rope so two horses won’t get tangled with each other and neither horse will get wrapped around a tree. I use locking pliers like Vise Grips® that I obtained at the local dollar store. Clamp them down on the highline at intervals to limit the ability of your horse to get tangled with neighbor horse or tree.

Bring lots and lots of garden hose and a couple of t-connectors with shutoff valves. If there is running water, chances are, it is some distance away and you can save yourself a lot of trouble by getting the water to come to you instead of having to carry it gallon by gallon.

Finally, whether or not ol’ Sparky is new to traveling to a camp destination or not, some electrolyte paste and digestive support paste are always great to have on hand. I suggest an electrolyte paste and plenty of water before and after the ride and if ol’ Sparky is a nervous Nellie on the trailer, some total gut paste if he or she might be prone to a bellyache.

I remember vividly having my very first ever campsite set up with the high line, a tarp, my tent, a grill, and a cooler full of goodies in the shade. We had been out on the trails for two short rides that day to get acclimated. The horses were munching on hay at the back of the site after having been hosed down and scraped off. I was sipping a tasty beverage. My daughter and I were preparing to cook dinner. One of my neighbors walked by and observed my humble setup. He was wearing a wide brimmed hat to keep the sun off his neck. Tipping the brim back with his hand, he looked me and said, “You got your horses on a dog run. Do they stay?” I looked over at the two mighty steeds quietly munching away and said, “Yup. So far.”

Courtesy of SmartPak