Camping with Horses
Get away to the great outdoors with your horse.
Jennifer Nice |
July 2011 Extra
When life gets hectic and you just need to get away, what could be a better escape than a
camping trip with your horse? No alarms jolting you awake, traffic jams making you late, no
phones or e-mails to answer, and no rushing to business meetings. It’s just the peaceful
sounds of nature, a crackling fire and a rippling stream, plus plenty of fresh air and, of
course, your horse.
While taking a camping trip with horses can be a lot of work, it’s also rewarding. The
work entails planning your trip, preparing your horse and packing—all of which can actually
be part of the fun. The reward is being able to ride for as long as you want with friends
and family. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your camping trip.
Preparing Your Horse
Although a camping trip may be very relaxing for you, it can be quite strenuous for your
horse if he’s not ready for it. Therefore, before you start poring over maps and searching
for campgrounds online, determine if your horse is physically and mentally prepared. He
needs to be fit enough to meet the demands of long trail rides for consecutive days,
especially if you will be venturing into rugged, mountainous terrain. If he is already a
veteran trail horse that you ride frequently, you are ahead of the game. If not, you’ve got
some training and conditioning to do before your trip.
Your conditioning program will be determined by your horse’s current fitness level and
the amount of riding you plan on doing during your camping trip. It may take several months
of consistent riding to build your horse’s fitness. Spend as much time in the saddle as you
can, and regularly assess his recovery parameters to monitor his improvement. Click here to read more about safely conditioning your horse.
In addition to being physically fit, your horse needs to possess basic skills that are
vital to your safety, especially in a remote area. Fortunately, you can build your horse’s
fitness level and brush up on his trail skills at the same time.
Here are the skills your horse should possess:
- Halt, stand patiently, back up and leg-yield.
- Negotiate obstacles such as gates, bridges,
brush, logs and water crossings.
- Negotiate steep ascents and descents.
Mental preparation is just as important as physical preparation. Your horse needs to be
comfortable in unfamiliar surroundings and around other horses. He should accept being tied
for long hours to the trailer or an overhead high-line. On the trail, he should tolerate
passing and being passed by others, and he must not kick at or intimidate the other horses.
It’s no fun to ride a horse that is behaving badly, and it’s just as unpleasant to ride in
the company of one. Build your horse’s confidence by desensitizing him to the many sights,
sounds and obstacles he will encounter around camp and on the trail.
Plan Your Trip
Options for equestrian camping are numerous, and an online search will give you a wide
variety of results. Once you pick a destination,
thoroughly research its facilities and trails.
The amenities offered at equestrian campgrounds vary greatly—from nothing at all
(primitive) to electrical and water hookups for RVs and trailers with living quarters. Some
may have hitching posts, high-line poles or corrals, and a water source for horses. (If
there is water available at the campsite, you should still bring your own and save it for
However, don’t feel like you are limited to designated equestrian campgrounds. If your
idea of camping is to really get away from it all, choose a destination that offers open
camping. Open camping is great, provided you are completely self-contained, including
providing your own water for your horse.
When you’ve selected a destination, inquire as to whether or not the trails are
accessible from the campsite, and if the campground requires advance reservations and/or
charges a fee, particularly over a holiday weekend or if your group is large.
Last but not least, as your departure date approaches, check the weather reports for the
area and pack accordingly. Click here for a packing list for your horse camping trip.
Your Horse’s Home Away From Home
Even if you have reserved or plan to use a corral provided by the campground, be prepared to
use alternate accommodations. You won’t know until you arrive if the corrals are actually
usable. You may find another horse in your assigned corral or discover that it is too muddy,
or too hot and lacking shade.
You have several options for your horse’s containment. These include overhead ties,
portable corrals and electric fencing systems. Which one you choose depends on personal
preference, portability and your horse’s temperament.
If your horse will stand tied for extended periods of time without pawing, pacing or
fiddling with his rope, buckets or hay bag, then you can tie him to the trailer, a hitching
post, an overhead tie arm or a high-line. If you tie your horse to the trailer or a hitching
post, the rope should be long enough that he can touch his nose to the ground and reach his
feed and water without having any slack in the rope, so he doesn’t get tangled. If you hang
your feed and water buckets on the side of the trailer, take precautions to ensure that your
horse can’t get his rope hooked under the buckets or on any part of the trailer,
particularly the rear door latches. If you tie more than one horse to the same side of the
trailer, they should be far enough apart that they can’t get tangled in one another’s rope.
A safe and easy option is an overhead tie arm attached to your trailer. Horses can move
around, lie down and even roll while tied to them. An overhead tie arm (also called a
HiTie), which can cost from $300 to $500, is a good investment if you plan on doing a lot of
A more inexpensive option is a high-line strung tightly between two trees, two posts or a
combination of both. The best type of rope to use is a 3/4-inch to 1-inch cotton rope, which
has a breaking strength of 2,600 to 3,000 pounds. Set your line high enough off the ground
that it clears your horse’s head. If you are tying just one horse, you can tie a small loop
knot in the center of the rope, or you can tie two knots, with each one at least 6 feet from
your end post, and secure your horse between the two knots. You will then attach a carabiner
or swivel hook to the rope or loop. If you tie two knots, the hook will slide along the
rope, giving your horse some walking room. The knots at each end keep him from walking
around the end post or tree. If you will be tying more than one horse to a single high-line,
then tie loop knots approximately 10 to 12 feet apart and attach one lead rope to each
When you tie your horse to the line, give him just enough length of rope that he can
reach the ground. Put feed, hay and water buckets on the ground. Do not hang a hay bag from
the high-line, as your horse’s rope may become tangled in it.
There are several caveats about tying horses: You can’t leave them unattended. If you go
for a ride and leave one or more horses behind, have someone stay at the campsite to keep an
eye on them. Make hay available at all times. This will alleviate boredom and keep your
horse from trying to get morsels of grass that might be out of reach.
If tying your horse isn’t feasible, or is not your preference, consider bringing a
portable corral made of steel, aluminum or PVC pipe. However, portable panels require extra
space for storage and transportation. People who use them on a regular basis will typically
store them in one of their trailer stalls, or on a specially designed rack on the side or
top of the trailer.
Portable corral panels made of sturdy steel that are secured using pins or clamps are the
safest option, but they are also the most expensive and cumbersome to store and transport.
The advantages of this set-up are that it’s relatively secure and sturdy. You can hang feed
buckets and hay bags on the panels, and horses have plenty of room to walk around and lie
Your other alternative is to set up an enclosure using electric tape or rope, plastic
stakes and a battery-operated charger. This type of containment system should only be used
with horses that are accustomed to and respect electric fencing. While it’s easy to set up
and take down and requires minimal storage space, it’s also the type of enclosure horses
most frequently escape from. Additionally, if a horse gets tangled in the electric tape or
rope, it usually won’t break, which can result in significant injury.
If you use electric fencing, keep in mind that the only thing between your horse and
freedom is your trust that he will respect his boundaries. Give your horse enough room to
move around, lie down and even roll without risk of accidentally getting zapped. Feed and
water should be placed in the center of the enclosure to reduce the chance that he will
touch the electric tape. Don’t make multiple pens with a single length of electric tape or
rope, and don’t put several horses in together if one is dominant. If your horse is prone to
pacing, choose another type of containment system.
The Great Escape
Once you arrive at your campsite and get set up, you will have all the time in the world to
ride and relax. Take a few moments to review the site’s rules and double-check your maps.
Before you head out on the trail, tidy up your campsite so nothing gets blown around while
you’re out riding. Stow your food chests, coolers and horse feed so curious critters can’t
get into anything. And when it’s time to pack up and head home, thoroughly clean up your
campsite for the next campers.
Camping has always been a great American pastime, and being able to bring your horse only
adds to the fun. The time you get to spend bonding with your horse will be well worth the
effort it takes to plan the trip.
More on Camping with Horses:
Horse Camping: Pack it up
New CHA Trail Guide Manual Available
Packing For Your Horse Camping Trip
Jennifer Nice is a freelance writer and equestrian based in Northern
This article originally appeared in the July 2010 issue of Horse Illustrated. Click here to subscribe.
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Camping with Horses