This season, you've promised yourself you'll make the leap. You're ready to camp with your horse - well, for just one night. You'll camp beneath the stars before a day of riding. When you arrive at your destination-of-rest, you won't hear vehicle engines. You'll be alone with your riding buddies and the horses.
But the same scenario that brings thoughts of freedom and wide-open spaces also makes you worry: What will you and your horse eat? What will you need to pack to set up camp? And will your horse be safe and comfortable through the night?
To take the worry out of your adventure, we sought advice from a panel of horse and camping experts: equine veterinarian and trail rider Barb Crabbe; longtime horse and mule trainer Steve Edwards (who teaches a class at Central Arizona College called "Spending the Night with your Equine"); natural horsemanship trainer Brad Myers; and horse-camping guru and The Trail Rider consulting editor Bonnie Davis.
Our experts agree that it's best to start with a one-night stay. And if horse camping seems daunting, recruit an experienced friend to accompany you or hire a guide to lead you on your first night out.
Find your first overnight stay location by scouting your local parks and wilderness areas for facilities that offer pre-set corrals for your horse. Such facilities will likely offer a sturdy overnight home for your horse and offer nearby campgrounds for you. Also look for a campground and set of trails that's near a trailer parking lot. While your goal is to be away from the safety and luxury of your posh trailer, knowing that emergency items are close by will make your first camp out peaceful and enjoyable.
Leave No Trace
Keeping your campsite clean is a must. A tidy site will keep animals away while you're a resident. When you're ready to pack up, it's also important to clean thoroughly, so animals aren't at the site when another camper arrives. Follow these tips to have a safe and easy-to-leave campsite:
- Store food in sealed containers. If you're in bear country, ask your local outdoor-supply clerk to point out containers specifically made to keep bears away.
- You'll want to hit the trail early after your night in the wild; cook so you don't have to spend time cleaning. Line a frying pan with foil before cooking. Once you're done cooking, remove the foil, roll it up, and take it with you.
- Use newspaper to insulate frozen items, then use the news-paper to start a fire after you've prepared your meal.
- Don't take time to wash dishes. Instead, pack several sets of plastic wear, and pack them back out to wash at home.
Read on to find out how to plan the perfect horse-camping dinner, bedtime, breakfast, and ride. Our experts will tell you what common mistakes to avoid on your first trip. They'll also fill you in on their personal recipes and share tips to make camping easy.
For your horse: Pack your horse's usual dinner rations. You may be tempted to "treat" your horse to special feed to prepare him for the upcoming day of riding. But Dr. Crabbe says to resist the urge to change his feed. "Keep your horse's feed as close to the same as possible," she says. "It's a big mistake to give your horse a big portion of grain or some other concentrate if he's not used to it. You might think you're giving him extra energy, but you really may be causing digestive troubles."
Dr. Crabbe says you may add a hydrating treat without the risk of upsetting your horse's digestion. Soaking your horse's hay, providing wet bran, or feeding beet pulp can prompt him to get the moisture he needs after a trailering trip or a day on the trail. "Keeping your horse hydrated is a priority," she says. "Make sure your horse drinks or gets moisture in his system."
And while electrolytes are important to help your horse stay hydrated, be careful not to overwhelm his system with a large dose. "Many trail riders make the mistake of administering a full tube of electrolytes immediately before they put their horses on a trailer," Dr. Crabbe says. "That large dose actually dehydrates horses, pulling fluid out of his bloodstream. If you're going to camp or ride where it's hot, start providing electrolytes in grain or a second bucket of water about a week before you leave home. That extra time will allow your horse to rebalance fluids."