If you like the outdoors and you own horses, sooner rather than later the idea of going camping is going to cross your mind. When that happens, think before you haul off down the road to parts unknown.
“We just decided one day we’d like to take our horses and go camping at Governor Dodge State Park,” Tammy Rodgers said. “Well, you can say we learned about horse camping the hard way.”
On the trip around Madison, the trailer had a flat tire. There, on the Beltline, the happy campers discovered they had no jack. On top of that, they had the wrong lug wrench.
Once things were patched up they drove to the park where the real fun started.
“We’d never used a highline before,” Tammy mentioned of a popular method for securing horses overnight. “So a horse got tangled in the rope.”
They had a horse with a significant rope burn not to mention a sleepless night for the campers. Some Banamine would help, but did they have any along? Call a veterinarian?
Good idea, but they were away from home and didn’t know the local services.
“Be prepared,” Rodgers said. “And you should start by physically conditioning your horse and yourself before you go.”
Conditioning includes making sure your horse gets on and off a trailer well. And make an effort to train the animal for what might happen on a trail. Birds and wind in the trees and wildlife are all a wonderful part of camping, but not if they scare your horse into the next county.
“Practice everything you can before you go,” she said, speaking at the 2013 Midwest Horse Fair. “If you’re going to use a highline to tie your horses, get some practice with that. The practice is good for you and your horse.”
Likewise, practice if you plan to use other methods to restrain horses at the campsite such as temporary corrals or tethers.
Learn about trail etiquette, she said. There are some universal rules about passing and approaching other riders and horses and it’s a matter of safety for everyone to have those rules understood. Working on desensitizing your horse to noise and sudden movements will help make for a safer, more enjoyable trail ride.
There also is the question of where to go camping. Rodgers said there is everything available from rough, wilderness camping to exclusive private resorts with complete services.
Each one has its good and bad points, but the idea is to prepare for the conditions of the campground.
“Wisconsin has a fair number of state trails and you can get a guidebook from the state,” she said. “Illinois and Iowa both have trail magazines with essential information about each site.”
Some locations, both public and private, require reservations. Make sure you check before you take off thinking about one adventure and get handed another. Other trails will close if it rains and the books and guides are useful for such information.
Horse camping probably means travel by trailer. Have a complete safety checklist that includes tire condition, brakes, lights, and all-around trailer soundness. Make sure you have good directions and have a list of emergency contacts such as local veterinarians and other reliable suppliers, she added.
“Think about what you and your horses need when you’re away,” Rodgers said. “Things like rain gear or an extra tarp can help save a trip. Make sure you have all the needed health certificates, especially if you’re crossing state lines.”
Hay, feed and water for the trip also are important. Some animals have trouble adjusting to different water, so you may want to flavor the water at home so the horse is used to a change. Taking enough hay from home is a good practice to keep from unneeded changes in feed while traveling.
“Preparation in advance will really help you enjoy the experience,” Rodgers said. “It really is a lot of fun and that’s what you want it to be.”
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