The best way to ensure a safe, fun horse-camping trip is to plan ahead. Taking the time to learn how to become camping savvy greatly increases the odds that your trip will be memorable in all the right ways.
If you've never camped overnight before, haul your horse away from home for several hours, so you at least have an idea how he'll act out of his normal environment.
"A horse may be mellow at home, but a nervous wreck if you haul him to a trail ride or camp," says Lari Shea, an accomplished endurance rider who owns and manages Ricochet Ridge Ranch, a riding-vacation destination in Fort Bragg, California.
"For your first campout, the best option is to travel with a friend whose horse is a buddy of your horse and preferably has already gone camping."
Before you load up the trailer and head out for a camping trip, be sure you have skills to help him stay safe on the adventure.
Even if you have a portable corral, there will be times when you'll need to tie your horse on your camping adventure, such as at the trailer. So, he should be completely trustworthy standing tied before you go camping.
"Your horse must tie well," Shea emphasizes. "It's one thing if he breaks loose at the stable, but another thing when you're 20 miles from the trailhead."
Shea strongly advises investing in a sturdy leather halter/bridle combination, then leaving on the halter portion at all times when trail riding and camping.
Never tie by the reins, even for just a few minutes.
"To be safe, tie with equipment meant for that purpose," Shea notes. "Always have a strong lead or tie rope. The safest is to have a lead rope that attaches to the halter via a loop without a snap, as snaps can break."
It may be tempting to just leave the lead rope attached to the halter while riding and loop the rope around your horse's neck, but Shea discourages this. Your horse might get tangled up if he lowers his head to drink along the trail. Plus, the rope will bump against him while riding.
Instead, tie the leap rope around his neck with a cavalry knot. Unclip the snap, and hook it to either the breastcollar or to a D-ring on your saddle.
A champion endurance rider, Lari Sheahas completed more than 6,500 miles in 50- and 100-mile endurance races. The owner of Ricochet Ridge Ranch (www.horse-vacation.com) on the coast in California's Mendocino County, she produces daily trail rides, custom horse holidays, and the Redwood Coast Riding Vacations.
Cynthia McFarland is a full-time freelance writer who writes regularly for a number of national horse publications and is the author of nine books. A horse owner for more than 35 years, she and her Paint Horse gelding, Ben, enjoy trail- riding adventures on a regular basis.