Camping With Your Horse

When the weather gets colder we all start to think about our next vacation and where we’re going to go. Once we’ve decided when and where we’re going the next thing to do is find somebody who can look after our horses while we’re away, but have you thought about vacationing with your horse instead? In recent years the popularity of horse camping has grown from something that only the wealthy, with their own land, could do to something that is now affordable for everybody.

What is horse camping?

You might not have heard of horse camping (or equestrian camping) before but it’s rapidly growing in popularity with people either looking for a place to stay overnight or for an extended vacation. The only difference between ‘regular’ camping and horse camping is that, as you might expect, you take your horse with you. As with regular camping, horse camping isn’t for everybody but it’s certainly worth giving it a try.

What are the advantages of horse camping?

To some extent camping with your horse is like a pony camp for grown-ups, it can be great fun and you get to meet lots of new like-minded people. You also get the chance to explore new places and ride in areas that you may not otherwise be able to. There’s no better way of exploring your surroundings than by horseback.

What are the disadvantages of horse camping?

It can be great camping with your horse but one of the main drawbacks is that it’s not so much of a relaxing vacation for you. Yes, you get to spend a lot of quality time with your horse but you’ll also have to do all of the ‘unpleasant’ jobs yourself. While you don’t mind clearing your horse’s droppings up at home, doing this when on vacation isn’t everybody’s idea of a great time.

Where do I keep my horse while camping?

One of the advantages of horse campsites is that you can keep your horse onsite with you for the duration of your stay. As a rule, there are three different types of campsites depending on how and where your horse is kept. The three types are corral, DIY or stabled. There are a few campsites that will look after the horses for you but the vast majority of them expect you to do that yourself.

Corral

These are horse campsites that have at least one corral for you to keep your horse in. Some campsites will have multiple corrals so that mares, geldings and stallions can be kept separately, although some campsites have a no stallion policy. Campsites with corrals are by far the most common and popular type of site.

DIY

If the campsite doesn’t have a corral then you’ll be allocated an area where you can keep your horse, not always but often close to your tent. You’ll then be expected to either provide your own portable corral or highline your horse. Highlining (sometimes called picket lining) is where you tie a line between two trees and then tie your horse to that line. Your horse is then secure and free to graze.

Covered

Campsites with their own stables or barn are the least common and tend to be more expensive than those with their own corral or a DIY solution. If you’ve never been camping with your horse before and he’s used to being stabled overnight then this type of campsite may be a good way of getting your horse used to it.

How to highline your horse for camping?

Using a highline is pretty easy once you’ve got the hang of it but it’s important that your horse’s halter is in good condition with no signs of wear or damage and that it fits him properly. Ideally, you also want to be using a cotton lead rope, but if you’re not using cotton then make sure the rope is soft and supple enough so that the knots won’t come undone.

For the highline itself, you’ll need a cotton rope that is at least 10 feet (3m) long (this is for one horse, you should add another 5 feet (1.5m) for each extra horse) and approximately 1/2 an inch (1.2cm) in diameter as well as a couple of Tree Savers. To tie the highline find two live trees (never use dead trees) that are far enough apart and thick enough to be able to hold the line (no less than a foot in diameter), then wrap the Tree Savers around them at least 8 feet (2.4m) off of the ground. Next string the rope through one of the Tree Savers and fasten it with a quick release (or halter hitch) knot (click here to see how to tie a halter hitch) then, before attaching the loose end to the other Tree Saver, add a loop to the rope around 5 to 10 (1.5m – 3m) feet from the other tree, you can then use this to help tighten the line. Once you’ve passed the end of the rope through the Tree Saver feed it back through the loop you created. Pull the rope as tight as you can then fasten it off with a half hitch knot (click here to learn how to tie a half hitch), you can use another half hitch if you’d prefer.

After you’ve put the highline up you can then secure your horses to it, leaving around 7 feet (2.1m) between each horse.

Horse camping checklist

It’s always best to travel light and not bring anything you won’t need but it can still be difficult to know what to take and what to leave behind. What you do pack though will, to some extent, depend on the weather, how long you’re camping for and whether or not you’re staying in one place or traveling around. Regardless of this though there are still a few important things that you should pack.

For your horse:

  • Saddle
  • Bridle
  • Saddlebag
  • Halter and lead rope
  • Boots
  • Collapsable water buckets
  • Collapsable feed bucket
  • Haynet
  • Hay and feed
  • Basic grooming kit
  • Rug (depending on the weather)
  • Any necessary medication 

For you:

  • Water bottle
  • Any necessary medication 
  • Comfortable riding clothes
  • Riding helmet
  • Clothing (plus spares in case you get wet)
  • Footwear
  • Nightwear
  • Toiletries

Documents

You might not need all of them but some areas won’t let you stay there unless you have valid paperwork demonstrating your horse is free from certain diseases. With this in mind, it’s important to carry copies of all necessary paperwork with you such as:

  • Certificate of horse registration is necessary 
  • Insurance, for both you and your horse
  • Negative Coggins test
  • Vaccination certificates

Miscellaneous:

  • Cellphone 
  • Map
  • Portable corral or highline
  • Bug spray
  • Sunscreen
  • Multitool with a sharp knife
  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Camping stove and pan
  • Food.

If you’re planning on traveling during the day and staying in a different location every night then it’s important to consider your horse when you’re packing. Don’t think you’ve got to take everything and remember that he’s the one who’ll have to carry it during the day, even if you’ve got it all neatly in a backpack it’s still going to be extra weight for your horse.

How far can you ride a horse in a day?

One of the great things about horse camping is that you can spend prolonged periods in the saddle but if you’re planning on camping in a different place every night you might be wondering just how far you can ride in a day.

The actual distance you and your horse can realistically cover in a day is dependant on a number of factors such as how fast you’re traveling, how often you stop for breaks (as well as how long the breaks are), the age and fitness of both you and your horse as well as the weather and terrain. While the pony express would change the ponies every 10 – 15 miles (10km – 24km) those miles were covered at great speed. Whereas a mounted soldier would regularly cover up to 60 miles (100km) a day and an endurance racehorse can cover up to 100 miles (160km) a day. At a walk, though the average horse on a warm day over level ground is likely to cover 30 miles (50km) during an eight hour day, including regular breaks. 

Rather than aiming to cover a set distance in a day it’s far better to aim for a maximum amount of saddle time instead. This will be better for both of you and will also give you both a chance to rest and recover before the next day.

Can you ride your horse at night while you’re camping?

Some campsites will have rules about when the horses have to be turned in by, but if your campsite doesn’t have any rules then I would highly recommend going for a few night rides. It can be great fun riding when most people have gone to bed and you can’t hear a sound. It heightens your senses as you’re aware of everything around you but it’s a magical thing to do. If you’ve never ridden at night then you may find the article I wrote recently on riding safely at night helpful.

Where can I camp with my horse?

Along with official horse campsites there’s also a large number of public spaces such as most National Parks that allow you to ‘wild’ camp so wherever you’re planning to go there are plenty of choices.

Most tourist boards (both local and regional), along with National Park associations such as National Parks USA, Parks Australia and National Parks UK, will be able to give you a list of campsites or places where they allow wild camping. If you’re thinking of traveling abroad with your horse then you may also find this article about transporting horses overseas helpful.

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