If you’re a parent, you might even consider making your next horse camping trip a family excursion, complete with your budding riders in tow. Here’s what you need to know before you go.
You’ll need at least one experienced horse-camper in the mix. If you’re not 100% confident in your abilities, consider joining up with a friend or an outfitter who has previous experience to learn the ins and outs of safely camping with horses. You and your camping crew can gain knowledge from a local outfitter for a weekend workshop, a clinic or class, or by tagging along with a seasoned packer to learn tips and tricks of the trade.
Gear is an important piece of the puzzle, both in terms of fit and proper use. All the horses in the group must be trained to work with specialized gear before hitting the trailhead. You’ll need a pack-saddle and paniers, as well as know how to throw a few basic hitches (knots) to secure your loads properly. You’ll also need equipment to secure your horses at night (some combination of a high-line, an electric fence, bells, hobbles, or picket-lines). Consider throwing in basic farrier equipment to tack on a shoe, or grab an adjustable boot. Don’t forget equine and human first-aid kits; a sturdy, all-weather tent; warm sleeping bags; and last but not least, good rain slickers.
Young riders must be able to mount and dismount without the use of a mounting aid, be comfortable at all gaits, and have experience using a one-rein stop. Plan shorter rides leading up to the trip to prepare for some of the challenges that might come up.
Put your kids on your most seasoned horses that have experience outside the arena. Be sure the kids’ horses are used to different stimuli, such as flapping tarps, zippers, coats, noises, etc., as well as walking out from the herd on their own. Horses should be comfortable crossing logs, navigating uneven terrain, and crossing water. Every horse must be trained in how they’ll be contained at night.
Consider the herd dynamics on the trail; make sure that your lead horse is reliable, and that the order of the horses on the trail reflects herd dynamics. Don’t be afraid to adjust as needed. It’s always OK to turn around if you feel that you and your horses need more training before heading out on a trip.
A conservative approach is best for beginner horse-packers. You want everyone to have a fun and safe trip; there’s no need to make your kid miserable by having them sit in the saddle for hours on end in the pouring rain. Plan to ride in about five miles over relatively uncomplicated terrain. This sounds like a short distance, but it takes a long time to set up and get your horses situated. Leave enough time before dark to set up camp; settle your horses for the night; and cook, laugh, and enjoy a campfire (if allowed) with your family.
Make It Matter
While horse-packing is a lot of work, it’s also one of the most meaningful and pleasurable ways to move through the world. Sharing in these experiences as a family brings you closer and creates memories that last a lifetime.