Horse Camping

See how you can camp with your horse and use the right equipment for your overnight stay.
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See how you can camp with your horse and use the right equipment for your overnight stay.
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My daughter, Jamie, likes to camp with her horse. The great outdoors holds many charms, and it's easy to understand why she wants to share it with her best buddy. It sure beats bouncing around a show ring with a herd of stressed-out geldings and their hypercompetitive riders. Western pleasure?

I think it's great that Jamie enjoys horse camping. But I'm not sure why she needs to leave home in the first place. We already live out in the country. Isn't our part of the wilderness cool enough? And exactly where do you go to get away from it all when you already live away from it all?

A Case of Consumption
Of course, modern camping isn't about where you go. It's about what you take with you. Outfitting is the key. In my home state of Michigan, the number-one tourist attraction isn't Mackinaw Island or the Henry Ford Museum. It's Cabela's, the super outfitter store. This place has everything from self-inflating flannel aerobeds to tetragon tents to battery-powered underwear. All real campers must have this stuff. Modern camping means things are more important than places.

The reasons behind this phenomenon are very complex and involved, but I'll do my best to explain them. So much of camping involves routine activities: eating, sleeping, and performing various physical functions. These present challenges which, in our consumption-obsessed culture, are addressed by purchasing equipment. Never been good at lighting a campfire, but you don't like cold hotdogs? Buy a Super Deluxe Portable Camp Stove with an electronic autolight feature. Instead of relying on our wits, we depend on the cleverness of equipment designers.

Like all good consumers, campers are always looking to upgrade their equipment. The pup tent is a seed for a future RV. In time, the sophistication and expense of the equipment make it the primary motivation for going camping:

"We paid too much for that thing to let it sit in the driveway, honey. And what about all the stuff in the garage? We must go camping."

Adding a horse to this milieu doesn't simplify matters. The Must Upgrade principle still applies. Like any other kind of campers, horse campers evolve Darwin-like from simple forms - "give me my horse, a blanket, and the stars" - to complex and impressive RV/horse trailer combos that my family could afford only if we willing to live in one.

Creative Containment
It's not a sin to have and want better stuff. But when we're talking about the safety, welfare, and continued captivity of a horse, it is even more important to have the right stuff. Horses present special camping problems

The biggest challenge of horse camping is keeping the horse secure. Even the most grateful horses will wander off and start a new life if not properly contained. My guess is that horses that get away would probably be okay without us and would soon forget they ever had anything to wander away from.

While the horse would be fine, the owner would not. Most likely, the horse himself is a kind of upgrade (from a bicycle or a lesser horse, for example) and so most horse campers are really keen about making their animal stick around.

Containing a horse while away from home isn't as easy as some think. Horse camping takes plenty of advanced planning. You can't simply tie the poor horse to the nearest tree like cowboys on TV do and hope that everything will be okay. TV cowboys are wrong a lot - especially when it comes to horses.

If the campsite isn't already set up for a picket line, the camper must tie her own. Much has been written on this very subject, and stormy debates have resulted. However, everybody agrees on one thing: You need two ends to tie a picket line, the ends must be a reasonable distance from one another, and they both must be solid and well-anchored. Like trees. Nature doesn't always provide this.

This is why Jamie is upgrading from a picket-line situation to portable fencing. She's starting out with a cheap, easier to use elastic-fence kit. No doubt she'll soon graduate to the portable aluminum panels that fasten together to make a pen strong enough to keep her horse from wandering away and making trouble.

Wish we had one of those when she was a kid.