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In Camp With Your Rocky Mountain Horse


In Washington State, they are blessed with miles of wilderness trails to explore with our Rocky Mountain horses. We have spent a lot of time in the backcountry, often with pack strings, and have had-and learned from-- many an adventure. Most of those "adventures" predate camping with Rocky Mountain horses whose interest in their people tends to practically make them camp pests. These tips for camping with your Rocky Mountain horse apply to all breeds of horse, not just to Rockies. I must say, however, that camping with Rocky Mountain horses is far easier than with other breeds we've had because the Rocky mind set is so congenial to the experience. They aren't called Mountain Horses for nothing. We'll leave the people equipment for another time and just concentrate on what you need to bring for your Rocky Mountain Horse including a First Aid Kit, and how to manage grazing and tying.

In camp, you need a way to confine your horse for the night and a way to let him graze morning and night without losing him to memories of his trailer waiting at the end of the trail. Many folks rely on hobbles, either Figure 8 or chain, to slow the horse down and keep it close to camp. Those who have had success with this method have been fortunate indeed and have never watched the south end of a horse disappearing over the next ridge in a very odd but ground covering gait that leaves humans a distant speck in the dust. We've found that most horses quickly master the hobble and that it slows them down only as much as they want it to. If spooked, or if they just want to catch up to another horse, the hobbles can rub the pasterns raw. I've even seen a horse gathering speed in hobbles who caught his hind leg in the front hobbles, flipping himself and scaring us to death thinking he had broken his neck. There are 3 legged hobbles and if you are happy with them, they will work better than just the front 2 legs. If your horse stays around camp in hobbles, chances are very good that the hobbles have nothing to do with it.

There are those who are partial to staking out their horse but there you run the risk of the horse getting rope burns managing the rope and you need a stake that can be driven far enough in the ground to hold him which you also have to pack in. You can use the trunk of a tree if it is carefully wrapped, but it doesn't swivel. Regardless, your horse will mow everything within the rope length down, making the Forest Service most unhappy with the "crop circles" it finds.

What then, is one to do?! First of all before you ever go into the wilderness, buy a nosebag, put some grain in it and hang it on your horse. Let him learn that the feedbag means something wonderful. Nose bags are amazing equine magnets, don't take up much space and we have never known a horse who didn't come to one once he knew what it was. You also do not need one per horse. We always pack in some grain with us, along with a few small chunks broken off a salt block. If we are in with a string for some time we might also bring along some beet pulp to help supplement the grazing for hard working horses. We expect and accept that our horses will drop a little weight on a lengthy trip, because they are working long hours at altitude and we simply can't feed them they way we can at home.

We have found that if you have more than one trail horse, the best way to graze them is simply to keep one horse in camp and let the other one go. If you feel insecure about this, let the loose horse drag a lead rope that it inevitably will step on and slow it down. Of course, that frequently makes for a lead rope you would not want your bare hands or good gloves touching. It is a good idea to get a dog ID tag made with your name and phone number with the word REWARD, and hang it from a ring on the face part of halter. That way should something cause your horse to bolt for the trailer miles away but get distracted and wind up elsewhere, folks who find him will know how to find you. It's not a bad idea to have your vet's name and phone number on the back of the ID tag either. That way finders will have a contact who won't be hoofing thru the wilderness in search of the missing horse.

Turn horses that are not the best of friends out to graze together, keeping their buddies in camp. Horses usually graze intensely about 45 minutes to an hour and then you'll notice them starting to wander more, browsing only the choicest morsels. That's when you put a little grain in a nosebag with the salt which makes an irresistible sound when shaken, call your horse and watch him come right up to the bag. Slip it over his head, lead him back to camp and turn loose your other horse. If you are going to be camping for several days in the same place, the horses will wind up eating farther away as they have grazed off what they want near camp. It doesn't hurt to have a bell on one of them so you can tell where they are when you can't see them. The two of us have spent weeks in the wilderness with eight horses and have never had to chase a horse­much less lost one-- with this method. It is also much easier on the landscape, letting the horses wander where they want to eat. It does cut into your day though, and you have to factor the grazing time into your riding plans.

In camp, your horses need to be tied to a highline and the horses at the end of the highline must be at least 10 feet away from the tree your line is tied to according to the Forest Service. We try to tie the horses 10 feet apart on the highline, so if we have 2 horses we need 30 feet between the trees. You also need to have the horses at least 100 feet away from a stream or lake. We use a 3 strand 9/16ths poly rope for our highline. It is light weight, doesn't slip, doesn't stretch, is very strong and durable as proven by the many years we've been using the same rope. You can get tree savers that protect the tree trunk from the rope biting into the bark or you can pick up sticks that are about the size of a wrist and place them around the trunk so they protect the bark when wrapping the line around the tree. Whatever you do, you should not simply tie the line to a tree. To keep the horses' lead ropes from slipping so they stay apart, you can either pack in a special Knot Eliminator for each horse or just tie loops in the highline and tie to them. That's what we do since the Knot Eliminators add weight to the pack, have been known to slip and are just one more extra thing to bring along.

Before you head on back down the trail, be sure you clean up the highline area as best you can. Kick those poop piles as far as you can, or bring along a folding shovel. Find a broken branch and sweep up the area a little, making the ground look more like you found it and less like it belongs with a dusty hitching rack. It's a courtesy to those who will come after you. The wilderness, as vast as it is, is still a finite resource and we need to minimize our impact on it.

We welcome questions and comments from our customers and site visitors. Please call us at 575-773-4633 or send an email to blessing@mountainhorsesense.com and let us know how we can help you.



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