Tips for camping and trail riding with horses

You’re all packed and ready for your equine camping trip. Now let’s focus on some helpful tips for trail riding at your destination.

Among the questions I’m most frequently asked are those concerning camping with horses and long-distance trail rides. In the first part of this article, we offered some suggestions on preparing for your trip. The second part will focus on some common practices to follow while on the trail. Some may sound unusual, but take our word for it – they’ll help you better enjoy your riding experience.

Saddling up

After riding many thousands of miles, I have learned (often by trial and error) some routines about saddling up. This one is what I call my “saddle pad secret”:

Have you ever had a small grain of sand in your shoe? Even if it is hard to find and see, it drives you crazy. You wonder how such a small thing can make it uncomfortable to walk – but it does! The “saddle pad secret” involves this concept. Just after I brush my horse down and before I saddle up, I turn over my saddle pad so the bottom side is facing up, then close my eyes and run my hand over it. Almost every time, I will find a small bit of sediment, a small ball of cloth material, or a piece of hay. Imagine the aggravation caused by a bit of sand in your shoe and realize that your horse is feeling the same thing under the saddle pad. When you’re on a long-distance ride, something like this can turn a perfect day into one with an uncomfortable horse. Give my secret a try and you will certainly improve your trip and the comfort of your horse.

Picking your trail riding buddies

When camping and riding in a group setting, I always saddle up early to avoid being rushed – then I look for Mr. and Mrs. Perfect. They’re the couple that saddled early, are often dressed similarly, and are sitting on their dead-broke horses under a shade tree waiting for the ride.  These are the folks you want to ride near throughout the day. Forget the guy with the new two-year-old stallion he wants to “try out” on the trail – ride next to Mr. and Mrs. Perfect. Their horses are calm, which lessens the risk of your own horse being startled or spooked. Chances are they have ridden the trail before and know interesting information about the area you’re in. If nothing else, they’re usually great people to become friends with, not just for this ride, but maybe for a lifetime.

Leading and tying

A longer than normal lead line can make such a difference when you’re camping with horses. This handy tool is not just for you and your horse. A longer rope means that if you have to lead another horse (with or without a rider), you have the space to keep that horse at a safe distance from your own.

I’ve had to use a lead rope as spare reins, and a short one just does not work. When you stop for a lunch break, trying to tie a short lead line around a large tree can leave your horse in a very uncomfortable position and unable to move. Finally, that extra-long lead line allows your horse to graze during a break. Again, a short rope just does not work for this, so have a rope made or buy a longer one to make your next camping experience safer and more comfortable.

Finishing strong

We spend a great deal of time getting ready for a ride, but what we do when it’s over is just as important. Before I leave on my ride in the morning, I take a few moments to fill the water bucket and hay bag for my horse. It only takes a few moments, but two things happen. First, it gives you a minute to rest easy when you get back, knowing that your horse will be already taken care of; and second, the horse will see you do this and look forward to returning after the ride.

After you get back from a long ride, remove the tack and brush your horse down. Some riders leave their horses cinched up for a period of time after getting into camp, but removing the tack right away allows the horse to cool off much quicker. Once everything is removed, let him eat and drink.

If a stall or paddock is not available and you use a high-line to tie your horse, I recommend the line to be at least 7’ off the ground. I use the Quick Draw Tie Line, which is quick and easy to set up. Please note that a horse has to lower his head to cough. This is a particular issue if your campsite is in a dusty area. Make sure the lead rope is long enough that your horse can get his head down to cough, but short enough that he cannot get his legs tangled in the rope or lie down to roll.

Camping and long-distance trail riding with horses is a rewarding experience that you’ll remember for years to come – as long as you do it right! If you have questions, contact me at

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Tom Seay, recognized as America's foremost outfitter and trail guide, has had horses since he was five years old. He and his wife Pat were professional horseback vacation outfitters in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains for 19 years. Tom produces and hosts the national television show, Best of America by Horseback, as seen on RFD-TV and The Cowboy Channel. On each episode, Tom takes his national television audience to beautiful and historic locations around the country by horseback. He is recognized for planning, organizing and successfully leading two transcontinental trail rides – one in 1995 from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, and another from Mexico to Canada.