Do you know what to consider when selecting an appropriate campsite for horses? Does the area where you plan to camp require Certified Weed Free Feed? Awareness of area regulations is as important as your environmental common sense....
One of the biggest impacts to affect trail riding and horse camping is the development of environmental regulations now being implemented in many states on federal and state lands. The National Forest Service is writing up management plans for the elimination of ‘noxious and invasive weeds’ through the use of Certified Weed Free Feeds (CWFF). Some areas have established and are enforcing CWFF requirements, but no single program exists nationwide.
When making your campsite arrangements, ask if CWFF is REQUIRED or simply requested or recommended. If it is required, ask for a list of feed stores where CWFF can be found. Since I horse camp and travel a lot with horses on federal lands, I keep my horses on California Certified Weed Free Elk Grove Pellets in the home barn simply because it’s safer for horses and meets federal feed recommendations.
Remember, when changing from one type of feed to another, begin the change at home. Never suddenly change feed as a horse’s digestive system isn’t geared to sudden diet changes. Start feed changes gradually and take about 5-7 days (or longer, depending on your horse). Don’t allow your horse to free graze a green meadow, because not all green grasses and plants are horse friendly. The Horse Owner’s Field Guide to Toxic Plants ( www.twohorseenterprises.com ) explains what to do if your horse grazes a forbidden plant.
Water is the most vital of feed requirements for both horses and humans. Some streams are seasonal and campsite pipes are often unreliable, so plan a backup. Take water for at least two days for each horse and each camper. For horses who won’t drink, add a can of apple juice, some grated carrots or even dunk the hay into the water.
- Camp at least 100 feet from water.
- Select a site that has been previously used or is established.
- Do not drive or ride across meadows. Ride around edges to prevent meadow damage.
- Keep vehicles on roads.
- When watering horses, use established watering sites (look for areas other stock or wildlife has used). If none is evident, bucket water to your horse.
- If high lining or picketing, use tree savers around trees. Tree savers should be two inches in width and ropes placed over them.
- Before high lining or picketing, rake the ‘duff’ from the surface. Place around a tree and then re-rake over surface when leaving.
- Move high lines and pickets once a week.
- For horses who paw, try hobbling at home so they get used to them, then hobble in camp.
- If bedding horses in a pen or under a highline, use pine shavings.
- When feeding, put feed into a hay net or bag with a ground cloth underneath to catch loose hay and grains. Dump it back into a tub or bucket for horse to finish.
- If using salt blocks, place them in a plastic tub.
- Pick up horse manure and, if permitted, scatter it away from camp. Do not stack or pile up. Scattered horse manure will dry faster.
- Do not cut trees for firewood. If allowed, use downed timber and always have a fire permit. Build fire on a fire cloth.
- If you hauled it in, haul it out!
SELECTING YOUR HORSE CAMPING SITE
Finding horse camps is simple – you just need to know where to look. Federal and state agencies, such as the National Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, State Parks and even the Army Corps of Engineers, have millions of acres available for horse camping and trail riding. Many areas are free with facilities ranging from a few corrals, pens or tie racks, pit toilets and a couple tables to first class camps with corrals, barbeques, showers, flush toilets and running water.
Horse camps are generally found in three categories:
- Developed – almost like living at home. Corrals, pens, paddocks, wash racks, hook-ups for RVs or trailers, easy access and parking, showers, toilets; some even offer cabins, meals, feed for the horse, stall cleaning and guided rides. For first-time campers, developed horse camps are great destinations.
- Semi-developed – usually has some type of pit toilet, may or may not have corrals, pens or paddocks; hook-ups usually don’t exist. Access can be over a dirt road.
- Primitive or wilderness – You bring everything you need, including water for human and horse in ‘dry’ camps. Primitive and wilderness camping offers some of the most relaxing types of horse camps simply because there are not many people around and you really develop your camping and trail expertise. Most of these are free for up to 14 days with BLM and National Forest Service having the largest systems of primitive/wilderness horse camps.
Select a horse camp to meet your level of experience. The first-time camper going into the wilderness could be the last camping trip! That first trip should be fun and exciting.
If time allows, camp Monday through Thursday, as weekends are more crowded. Fees are usually cheaper mid-week, too.
Not Sure if Your Horse is Ready for Camping?
To find out how your horse reacts to a change in stabling environment, camp at home! Put the stalled horse into a corral or pen and let him spend the night there – no roof, no shavings. Put the pasture-boarded horse into a stall or pen. Monitor your horse by camping with him. It’s better to find out how a horse reacts to ‘camping’ in the barnyard than when camping 100 miles from home. You can always tell when the horse has accepted his new horse camping environment – he’ll lie down.
Bonnie Davis, clinician, free-lance writer and owner of Two Horse Enterprises ( www.twohorseenterprises.com ) has been trail riding and horsecamping for more than 45 years. Two Horse offers more than 25 state trail guides written by folks who trail ride and camp plus equipment needed to enhance one’s camping experience. Contact Two Horse Enterprises at firstname.lastname@example.org or (925) 523-3241.