Discover New Horizons on Horseback: Take A Vacation with Your Horse!
Photo by Melissa Schroeder
HHH: For an enjoyable and safe vacation, research in advance the many
choices that feature horse accommodations.
A well planned trip begins with gathering accurate information. Scan the National Forest website (www.fs.fed.us) by state or forest name. Click on the phone directory for ranger station numbers to obtain campsite locations, horse trail availability, difficulty, and length, etc. Rangers are excellent supports before and during a trip. For non-forest equine vacations contact (www.horsemotel.com), www.horseandmuletrails.com), (www.horsetraildirectory.com), (www.horsebacktrails.com), (www.horsetravels.com), (www.overnightstabling.com) and also consult trail riding bulletin boards. Visit Two Horse Enterprises (www.twohorseenterprises.com) for a wealth of books on camping and related information. Call ahead for referral names and numbers, accommodations, and availability. Remember, websites may not be “current”. Also consult the Chamber of Commerce, trail riding groups, and anyone who can verify specifics BEFORE making the trip.
HHH: Adhere to the “maximum heartbeats” guideline when selecting
the number of riders allowed in a National Forest.
National Forests dictate the size of your group within the forest. Size manageability is important to keep the group together. Consider skill level of both horse and rider, health, and even personality traits of your trail partners. Avoid clashes and unnecessary risks. Certified “weed free” hay may be required feed within forests and parks to avoid introducing invasive species. Contact www.fs.fed.us, and www.weedfreeforage.com. For weed free feed in California, go to Elk Grove Milling, 916-684-2056, talk to Pam. Elk Grove has a CALIFORNIA Certified Weed Free Pellet.
HHH: Plan each day’s agenda in advance.
Typical rides are 6-8 hours a day. Set the pace based on the combined skill (and comfort) level of the group. An experienced rider should be in charge. No one says you can’t just ride a half-day, but take a poll to meet the majority of the groups’ desires. Remain flexible. Unexpected campers might include large groups or even 4 wheelers. Be prepared to share - or alter your trail choices to seek the environment you prefer. To avoid crowds, travel off-season or avoid high traffic locations.
HHH: Set up your base camp upon arrival.
When possible, set up camp at the head of the trail you plan to ride. Other campers could beat you to the spot, so make a back-up base camp site as well. Trailers with living quarters may need hook ups; tent campers need only the ground. One can camp anywhere in a national forest as long as it is not posted to stay out, not a developed campsite for people only, or not in a 'restricted area' - just find a forest service road, drive down to a nice spot, unload, select a site meeting environmental recommendations, and highline the horses. Try to keep groups somewhat together for ease in communication, and keep the horses nearby for ease in tending to them and keeping watch over them. Base camp is an important “home away from home” to relax, eat, tell stories around a campfire, and share the day’s events.
HHH: Trail navigation requires awareness of landmarks and the ability
to read topographical maps.
Make sure all riders are familiar with directions to avoid getting lost on an unfamiliar trail! Gather each morning for a “directions” meeting and hand out day maps. Global positioning GPS) can be considered; landmarks and a compass will be essential primary tools. Some trails have signs, some don’t. A trail can be non-distinct (because of little travel) or vegetation can grow quickly and cover the trail. You might even run across old pack trails used by settlers. Look for cairns (piles of rocks), posts, or other markers left by rangers or other trail users designating where the trail is. Trails can be hard to see above tree lines.
HHH: Your First Aid Kit should be human and horse friendly, easily accessible,
and properly secured to your saddle bags.
(See NHM Volume 1 Issue 2 "Do It Yourself" for a lightweight homeopathic kit, and Volume 8 Issue 2 "Stable Environment" for more kit ideas.) Safety cannot be over stressed to assure an enjoyable trip. Every rider should carry WATER; dehydration is a major concern. Pack rain gear (slicker/ poncho with hat), gloves, sunscreen, an emergency shelter (like a tarp to hang between two trees in unexpected weather), and space age blankets (to stay dry and warm). Hypothermia is a big issue in the mountains and is deadly if untreated. At least one person in the group should carry a cell phone. Although reception can be difficult, a phone can save a life in an emergency. Bring along Rescue Remedy flower essence (800-319-9151); travel/trauma support for both horse and rider (like Enzymedica’s Virastop, 888-918-1118); and Aquagen’s oxygen drink and other products (800-699-4336), great for high altitude breathing, energy, and to clean water. Make a list and check it twice. Research potential natural dangers such as snakes and other possible hazards in advance, and come prepared for them.
HHH: Serious planners feel free to contact Leroy Wolf for invaluable
FREE first-hand equine vacation information.
Leroy, a 30-year overnighter (15 years on horseback) 515-210-0903, email@example.com, is generous to share of his knowledge. He and his wife (and often 10-12 additional riders) enjoy 2 out-of-state and a few in-state (IA) equine excursions every month. He has a wealth of sensible suggestions that can save you time and maximize your experience and safety. Over the years Leroy has experienced immediate (and dramatic) changes in weather. Once a rider even had a heart attack and required helicopter assistance. Leroy says “people AND horses do get sick!” Leroy also says, “It’s a big mistake to take an out of shape, boarded horse. Colic and even death is always a possibility, even with active animals.” Obviously humans, too, are physically challenged with daily riding as well. Leroy calls Janine Wilder’s book, Trail Riding, “excellent and well written”. It’s certainly high praise when such an experienced horse vacationer says “he learned a lot”. Another great Leroy tip is to make sure more than one person is aware of where you are supposed to be at all times. Inform the ranger station when you arrive and where you’ll be. Also inform a friend or family member.
HHH: Suggested horse vacation areas for Colorado and Wyoming (per Leroy):
In Colorado, Leroy is partial to horse trails in Mt. Zirkel because of the availability of dispersed camping (away from developed camping); “you can ride all week and never ride the same trail twice.” For information, contact 307-745-2300, www.fs.fed/r2/fhm. He also likes Flat Top Wilderness in White River; 970-945- 3229, www.fs.fed.us\r2\whiteriver. Leroy also mentioned the Winding River Ranch, near Grand Lake, an 800-acre resort and equine center featuring indoor and outdoor arenas, barn and stalls, raining pens, cabins, indoor pool, and hot tub. For self-contained trailers or cabins call 970-627-3251; for camping, call 970-627-3215. Rental horses are available (with guide). The facility offers riding access to the Arapaho Forest and Rocky Mountain National Park, 970-627-3471, www.nps.gov/room. In Wyoming, Leroy likes the area south of Laramie (by Centennial, off 130) or Woods Landing (off 230, 307-745-2300) by Medicine Bow Routt National Forest. Disperse camping only is available - for horses, tent or trailer; no hook ups. (Disperse camping also means no toilets, no treated water, and no fire grates are provided. There are extra responsibilities and skills that are necessary for disperse camping; it's your responsibility to know these before you try this.) The Pelton Creek area has pens near the camp area (about 1/4 mile away); they take no reservations, so it is first-come-first-served (be prepared for a Plan B). For the Tetons Forest, contact Dale Dawson for trail and corral Information at 307-739-5426; for Wind River Range, call 307-527-6241.
HHH: Pack light, dress SMART for the trail.
Choose properly fitted well-made boots for the ride. Ill fitting boots spell disaster... blisters can be painful and can lead to open sores. Never wear a new pair of boots that haven’t been broken in! Wear wool blend socks (to wick away sweat) and appropriate, comfortable undergarments. Wear comfortable and durable clothing, and make sure you do the same for your horse - use only well-fitted, broken-in, comfortable tack. Long sleeved shirts are preferred to lightly protect skin from minor scrapes and sunburn. Layered clothing is desirable, but keep in mind anything that comes off must be stored. Be prepared for temperature variances. In the mountains it may be 40° at night and 70-80° in the daytime. The sun is more intense at higher altitudes. A hat and sunglasses are a must!
HHH: Search the internet by state for “Horseback Outfitters”.
Before trekking out on your own, consider becoming acquainted with the environment and demands of horse over-nighting with an experienced outfitter. Leroy started with an “outfitter” years ago - something he recommends for others as well. One such reliable outfitter is John Judson (www.quartercircle.net) John’s a real mountain man. Fifty miles south of Gunnison, Colorado, John is licensed for “recreational pack trips” in the Lagarita area. He has cabins, does day rides, is reasonably priced and offers overnight trips as well. He raises Appaloosa horses, which he provides on the rides. Per Leroy, “John is a Fabulous COOK! He does it all; but plan ahead, he books a year in advance. Groups are small (2-6). Always ask for multiple referrals to obtain reliable information from various sources.
HHH: Belly Acres Trail Riders Campground offers amenities adjacent to
75 miles of Texas National Grasslands.
Belly Acres is owned by 7-year residents Rhonda and Troy Andresen who take pride in having made new friends of repeat guests, as well as “passers through”. Enjoy adventures on both marked and unmarked trails that interweave sandy, wooded and also open areas. Amenities include 9 wooded sites, electric and water hook ups on a gated property located near Johnson City, Texas (also nearby the popular tourist town of Fredericksburg noted for its German food and shopping). Reservation ONLY, call 940-427-2525
HHH: Aqua Verde Stables is located within an hour of San Antonio, Texas
and features 700 acres of diverse riding in the Texas Hill Country.
Situated about an hour from San Antonio, Texas (a town chock full of Texas history, great restaurants, shopping, a picturesque River Walk and canal, Sea World and Six Flags - plenty for an entire family to enjoy), Aqua Verde Stables is a Trail Ride Ranch featuring 700 acres of both flat lands and graduated hills for all level riders. Amenities include horse camping with or without paddocks and/or feed (but no water or electric), or a cabin, or hook ups for living quarters. There is access to a round pen and arena. Ask about the new “obstacle course”. Call Annette at 830-634-2622, and view www.aquaverdestables.com. (Rent horses are available upon request from a stable nearby.)
HHH: You’ve not had a luxury horse vacation unless you’ve
visited the A to Z Guest Ranch in Smithville, Oklahoma.
Start making plans to visit A to Z Guest Ranch as soon as possible. That’s A for Andy and Z for Zondra Lewis, proud owners and exceptionally kind/giving caretakers of this upscale B&B family ranch featuring 150 miles of marked trails, old logging roads, creek crossings, beautiful mountain trails and views, luxury cabins, 26 RV sites, a shower house for campers, covered stalls, and outside corrals. Bring “breathable” jeans because you won’t be able to resist the food prepared by Chef Zondra in an assortment limited only to your imagination. Choices are endless; ranging from themed meals, home-made cookin’, Italian, German and even gourmet served by candlelight or packed picnic style for the trail. Don’t miss out on an outstanding professional massage from Janet! Many guests have returned 6 and 7 times because of the exceptional treatment, stating
“we’d come even more often if we weren’t 250 miles away. You come as a guest and leave as family... counting the days until you can get back!” Check it out on the web, atozguestranch.com, and contact firstname.lastname@example.org, 580-244-3729.
HHH: Horseback riding in the wild offers a unique raw perspective
and beauty like you’ve never seen.
Regardless if on a guided trip, with a small intimate group, or among a large group, a vacation on horseback is a chance of a lifetime. In a remote natural setting be prepared to see bear, mountain lion, deer, elk, moose, big horn sheep, and much more depending on the vastness of the area you have chosen to explore. Remember to 'leave no trace'; preserve the natural environment. Trails can lead to beautiful vistas, lead through heavily treed areas, open up on lakes, meander through streams, and climb to hill tops or descend to the bottom of culverts. Discover the wonder of nature, the undisturbed, the unexpected. Explore new horizons on horseback!
For more information:
Two Horse Enterprises
PO Box 15517
Fremont, CA 94539
Loads of books on trail riding and camping and all kinds of related horse camping information are available through them. Updated yearly, their Trails Reference Guide contains over 1,000 addresses of where to write for horsetrails and horsecamping information across the nation.