Going on a camping trip with your horse can be a fun adventure. Here are some things to consider before you head out.
Many horse owners dream of camping with their equines. Few things feel better than getting away to spend time in nature with friends, family – and, of course, your horse! But when you actually begin to plan a camping trip that includes your horse, it can seem daunting. Where do you even start? How do you find places to camp? And what do you need, whether you’re camping for a weekend or a month?
First and foremost, let me say that your horse is going to make a big difference to the success and enjoyment of your camping trip. You need a good, safe, reliable trail horse/mule that can high-line, picket or stay in a portable corral. I cannot emphasize this enough!
Finding places to camp
When we started camping with our own horses, we joined Back Country Horsemen (there are various chapters of this group across North America). This is a fabulous group to belong to because they help maintain trails, trailheads and horse camps, and keep the trails open. If you don’t have a Back Country Horsemen chapter in your area, find other groups that love camping with horses. It’s always more fun to camp with others. If you live in the US, there are places on the BLM and State Lands where you can camp for up to two weeks, but check for permits for the areas you want to camp in. Forestry sites are always great too. In Canada, there are Crown lands and Forestry sites that allow for horse camping.
If you’re a first time horse camper, start small. Try finding a good place close to home that has corrals and well-marked trails. Don’t go out and buy a big rig or plan a big trip until you know for sure this is something you want to do.
If you are a first time horse camper, start small.
We started with a one-ton 4X4 pickup, a tent, and a two-horse bumper pull trailer. Our first camping trip was close to home. It wasn’t the best – too many bugs and some of the trails were inaccessible – but we did find one incredible trail to a mountain lake that made me want to hit new trailheads. Our second trailer was a gooseneck; we ended up finishing its interior to make it comfortable for us to stay in. We traveled twice with it all the way to Arizona, for up to six weeks. Just before we retired, we bought the big rig.
Find out how much you actually like camping with horses before you decide what kind of trailer you want to buy, or what adventures you are going to go on.
Before you hit the road
Before you embark on your trip, here are some things we always check. It is important to make sure all of your vehicles and equipment are in good, safe working order before you go – nothing is worse than a preventable breakdown with horses on board when you’re far from home!
Look at the tires on your trailer to ensure they are in good condition and that the pressure is optimal. We have experienced tire blowouts; it is unnerving and can be very dangerous for both you and your animals. Make sure your breakaway battery (which operates your brakes in the event of a disconnect) is fully charged and in good working order. Have your brakes and bearings serviced annually. Check brake function and adjust accordingly. Make sure the floor of the horse trailer is solid and not damaged. Ensure all windows and doors are latched and locked prior to travel.
If your living quarters are equipped with slide-out, make sure it’s properly brought in and secured, and that the fridge and sliding bathroom doors are latched. Close all roof vents and lower any antennae before travel. Fill water tanks, fully charge all batteries, fill your propane tanks, and fuel up the generator tank. Ensure your hitch is closed and latched with safety chains on and a breakaway cable. Make sure all electrical functions are working. Check that all your running lights, brakes and signal lights are working on both your truck and trailer. Secure any and all loose items in the trailer in preparation for travel. If you are also traveling with smaller pets, like we do, keep them in crates for their own safety.
Towing vehicle checklist
- Oil and coolant level
- Power steering levels
- Drive belts and hoses
- Brake components
- Signal lights
- Dash lights/gauge warning lights
- Fuel level
- Oil pressure
- Wipers/washer fluid and blower
- Four point brake check
- Navigation system or maps
- Two-way radios
- Rims, nuts, hubs, tire thread, and tire pressure
- Headlights (high and low)
- Brake lights
- Fifth wheel assembly
- Gooseneck or trailer hitch — locked in and secure
- Truck and trailer safety stickers
- Trailer safety chains and breakaway cable
- Breakaway brake check and breakaway battery charged (some trailer setups do not charge)
What to bring
When travelling with horses, it is always better to be over-prepared, especially when camping in remote areas. You may find yourself a long way from the nearest feed store, tack shop or veterinarian.
When travelling with horses, it is always better to be over-prepared!
Make sure your horse is up to date on applicable shots and de-worming and that you have the relevant paperwork as well as your horse ownership papers (registration papers, bill of sale, lease agreement, etc.). Bring water containers for the horse/s – allow for 20 gallons per horse daily. Pack water and feed buckets, hay nets or bags, feed and hay (bring extra in the event of a delayed return), and a good blanket or rainsheet in case you encounter a cold or wet night. You will also want to bring a rope for highline or picketing, and/or portable electric fencing or corrals for overnight, as well as a muck bucket and fork.
You will also want your usual riding and grooming gear as well as an extra saddle blanket, extra cinch/girth, extra stirrup/leathers, extra reins, extra halter and lead, leather punch, shipping boots/wraps, fly masks and spray, hoof boots and farrier tools, and a very well-stocked first aid kit for both humans and horses!
If you are traveling out of state/province or across the Canada/US border, you will want to bring current health papers as well as proof of a negative Coggins. Most states will also require a Brand inspection or proof of ownership. To cross the border into the US or Canada, you must have a current International Coggins, and International Health papers (different from state-to-state health papers). Always carry proof of ownership for your equines as well as Brand inspection papers.
Respect the experience
Camping with your horse is a wonderful experience. You get to explore new sights, bond with your horse, and have fun adventures with your equine friend (maybe you’ll even make some new friends along the way!). Always remember that being able to camp with your horse is a privilege, so respect sites and trails, and always remember to pack out what you packed in – leave no trace behind. Happy trails!
Kelly Brook Allen has been riding all of her life. After many years as a hunter/jumper rider, she tried her first camping trips in 2004. Now traveling and camping with her horse comes first. She started a website called Camping and Horses in 2007 to help others find places to camp. She travels south every winter to warmer states with her horses and spends a lot of the summer months camping in and around British Columbia.
campingandhorses.com; Facebook group – campingandhorses.