What makes a good horse camp?

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    With so many choices of horse camps and trails, it’s important to have a starting point with which to compare.  Over the years, we’ve learned that there are some things that are almost universally desirable for a horse trip, while others are purely optional or personal.  So that you’ll understand what WE consider ideal while reading our reviews and posts about the horse camps where we’ve stayed, it’s only fair to point out that what WE like and what YOU like may be considerably different.

    Also, just because a horse camp doesn’t have everything that we prefer doesn’t mean we didn’t have a good time there, it simply means we had to take into consideration the extra challenges.

    Our first consideration when planning a stop is whether or not we can maneuver there.  As large a unit as we have, there have been times when there just wouldn’t have been enough room for us, but only found that out because we called first.  This is particularly true in older parks, which were built for the 20 foot campers of long ago.  Of course, this depends on the unit, but it’s helpful to keep that in mind.

    Next, we look at the availability of water.  There is a huge range on this topic, from every site having a water spigot, to there being one or a few central spigots, to hand pumps (that are often leaky and VERY tiring to operate), to no potable water at all, though creeks and tanks and springs for horses, to no water at all, in which case you’ll have to plan extra carefully.  Over the years, we’ve acquired a couple of portable rain barrels, 70 gallons each, that can store enough water for the horses to get us through a week, plus our horse trailer has an additional 30 gallon tank inside.  Remember, horses drink an average of 12 gallons each per day, more in hot weather, so plan carefully!

    Our travel trailer has an unusually large, 85-gallon fresh water tank (one of the reasons we bought this unit), which is also good for a week, and almost two if we really scrimp on showers and dish washing.

    Electric is a luxury for us, but one we do indulge in occasionally.  We carry two small 2000x Honda generators, one of which is sufficient for all our electrical needs except air conditioning.  When we need AC, we gang the two generators together, and that works just fine.  Just be sure you bring along enough generator gas for the duration.

    During the winter months, however, if you plan on staying in colder weather, you might want to consider finding a place with electric, or be prepared to use a lot of propane on cold nights.  Campfires are all very nice, but cold mornings are really for the toughest of us, and frankly, we’re a bit more into the mod-cons for that!  Our latest trailer has an electric fireplace that does a find job of keeping the unit warm, along with another small heater in the bathroom (a flaw in the design that there are no heat registers in the bathroom!  Our last unit wisely had two!)

    When we arrive at a campground, the first thing we do is determine how we get water, and fill up accordingly (sometimes this has to happen before we arrive, depending on what’s available at the campground.  Gas stations and Walmarts usually will let you have access to fill up.  Most Walmarts actually have an extra spigot in the parking area next to their Garden Center, weather permitting.  Next, Hubby gets out his compass to determine the best site that has a sufficiently clear view of the satellites, so he can set up his dish properly.  This is not generally a priority for most campers, but when you live on the road, it becomes one!

    Once he’s determined the right site, we then turn to horse containment.  Over the years we’ve accumulated just about every type of horse containment system possible.  Some places, particularly west of the Mississippi, have horse corrals, often covered corrals in places like Texas and Oklahoma where the summer sun can be so debilitating that it’s necessary to keep the animals in shade. (Army Corps of Engineer parks are particularly good at this in the Southern Plains).  These are the best and easiest methods.  Just be sure you clean up your stalls when you leave.  Our motto is, “Leave a campground as good or better than when you found it!”  It’s always disappointing to arrive and have to start by cleaning out the mess someone else left behind (particularly when you already cleaned your previous stall that morning!)

    More often than not, we highline the horses.  This is a simple system that I will describe in more detail in another sticky note shortly, but there’s a lot of information on the internet about this as well.  Sometimes a campground will provide posts, sometimes they’ll even have ropes or cables already strung between them.  Very often we just select a couple of good trees nearby and go from there.  The only caution is to make sure the horses can’t step over the lead, but at the same time giving them enough slack to reach water and food if it’s on the ground.  This system allows horses full movement, and even gives them enough freedom to lie down and roll if they want!  Other than a large corral or round pen, this is our favorite type of containment.

    Some people use portable corrals.  We haven’t needed to in the past, though without question they would have been handy in a few places we’ve been.  We’ve ordered one from Valley Vet, and we’ll be experimenting with it over the next few weeks, so we’ll let you know what discoveries we make.

    The WORST types of horse containment systems are easy to declare, at least from our perspective, but again, some people like them for reasons we cannot fathom.  It is common in Minnesota and some areas of Iowa and Kentucky, to use a “hitching post.”  This is usually heavy timber, like railroad ties, in a configuration like a miniature football goal post.  Often they add a cable between the posts as well, presumably to hang a hay bag.  We find this strategy the most unfortunate for horses.  They can’t move very much, can’t lie down, are very restricted in every imaginable way.  In many parts of the country, if someone were to tie their horse to a railing for a week or two, it would be grounds for animal cruelty.  Needless to say, we didn’t stay at any campground with this configuration for long, unless we were able to jury-rig something else, which we often do.  (though we have to say, in the two places we stayed in Minnesota, both were Gestapo-esque in their determination to enforce their rules, even to the detriment of the animals.  Not a state we plan on going back to.)

    In the National Forests east of the Mississippi, particularly the Great Smoky Mountains, and the Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky, their horse containment system is equally as bad.  On a foundation of concrete, they have installed pipe dividers.  These dividers create a row of makeshift stall about 3-4 feet wide.  The back is open, or sometimes has a chain that can be used to close off the back end, or entry, into the stall.  The stalls are too narrow for the horse to move around, and for safety, must be tied at the “head” of the stall.  Again, movement is completely restricted, and animals can’t lay down even if they wanted to, without the potential for seriously hurting themselves when getting up.  Along the back side is a cement trough designed to collect waste, but it’s configuration actually makes it harder to pick up with a manure rake.  They, too, don’t generally have, or allow, optional containment such as a highline, depending on the campground.

    These are just a few of the considerations you need to have when planning your horse trip, and the more information you have before you arrive, the more prepared you will be and the easier your setup.  We have found many websites on the internet with some guidance, but most are sadly lacking in particulars, which is one of the reasons for this website.  If you would like more information about any campground you’re considering, let us know!  If we don’t know the answer, we’ll help you find it from among our many readers.  If you are familiar with a campground, please take a few minutes to share it with us!  Your insights could make the difference to someone’s best (or worse) horse camping experience!

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