Five Steps of Preparation for Your Backcountry Riding Vacation

Friends, all I can say is that I have seen some wonderful country from the back of a horse! 

It’s a little different with a horse, they are doing the work for you, while you have the advantage of this perch to look around on.  While hiking, you are likely looking down and don’t have the elevated view!

  I spent twenty years riding and camping with my horse.  These are processes that have worked for me. My most recent trip was in 2012, after which my daughter, about nine years old at the time, wanted my company for vacations (!), and many areas, routes and destinations, were burning with rampant forest fires.  So I set it aside for a while.  I’ve kept track of favorite riding areas, and new ideas put out by folks gaining experience!  Hopefully, this will springboard you into researching your own ideas and what might work for you!

Where to Go?

This should be determined by the level of condition and trail experience of your horse, and of your riding buddies going with you.  In the old days, it was the folks who would commit to keeping their rig tuned and ready in good repair, and a consistent conditioning and exposure program for their horses.  Having dabbled in endurance riding for five years, I’d condition as if for a twenty five mile ride, and then I could be quite confident that I could go on my trip and not worry about my horse.

Lake basins are great places to visit.  Great views and moderate terrain that everyone can enjoy.  Diamond Peak Wilderness in south central Oregon is a good one.  Traveling through Crater Lake National Park, is wonderful.  Mt Adams is a repeat favorite, both from Mt. Adams Horse Camp and Keenes Horse Camp.  Author Kim McCarrel writes trail books that encompass many areas of Oregon and Washington.  She covers many areas I have ridden and her information is reliable.  Her website is

Facebook site Holly’s Horse Tales and Trails is also good information on areas of Central Oregon that I have camped and ridden.  Her blog brings back many happy memories!

The Open Trail Project is a great site with a Facebook site as well, for an archive of national horse trails, and handy record keeping tools.  Check it out here:

We Are Trail Riders is another .com and Facebook resource for the rider with national riding sites.  Check it out here:

These resources will help with map selection and other land management resources.  I always used Green Trail Maps and checked with the Forest Service on trail conditions and closures.  Map stores are also great resources, Bend Mapping and Blueprint in Bend, Oregon, is a great resource for trails outside the Diamond Peak Wilderness area, which are every bit as nice to ride as those within the wilderness boundaries!

We all started out with camping in our horse trailers!  Over the years, we all managed to upgrade to some form of camper ( I had a pop-up for seven years), and while it afforded lots of comfort, what it really did was organize us!  It’s really nice to not have to set up camp when we arrived!  And it was really nice to have a sense of organization so we could concentrate on riding!  Not to mention sleeping with a warm face if you want to use the heater!

I found that year after year, August was a good time to travel the backcountry.  Late snow melt was generally gone, and bugs are scarce!  No issues with wasps or bees, and the no-see-ems are most active in July in those high mountain meadows. You have a little less daylight, and depending on elevation, you can encounter occasional overnight temperatures near freezing.  Still, I have found it to be the most enjoyable time to ride!

Thinking of packing in?  I always bring what I need to stay overnight if need be.  But I wouldn’t qualify that as packing in, lol!  There are a couple of near-30 mile loops that I would like to break into two 15-milers and stay out the night.  Tons of material out there, my favorite being the guys from Montana at Trailhead Supply.  Catch up on their blog!  They regularly attend the Backcountry Horsemen of Washington (BCHW) Rondy in Ellensburg, Washington.  They have given a great mini-seminar on getting started in packing for women, always to a “sell-out” crowd!  Here is their website link:

Here is a link to the rondy:

I like the idea of the over the saddle panniers to keep it easy!

What to Bring?

Food for a week!  The camper refrigerators, even the small ones, can hold a lot!  It’s fun to trade off meal duty with your buddies!  Fry pan burritos were easy after a ride, and quick!  And me, I can eat hot dogs the entire time!  Check around and you’ll find what suits you!  I’ve also done cheese fondue when it was my turn to cook!

A water resistant blanket for your horse and a lighter sheet.  When your horse has been working all day, they will appreciate a cover in the higher elevations, and whether it is your enclosure or a horse camp, not a lot of room to move around to keep warm.

Clothes to layer.  I used my cross country ski clothes!  I layer with tights and pants of choice for chafing, Sporthill sells a wind resistant ski pant that is tapered towards the ankle, which I found handy.  A stretchy vest, my Outback jacket, and  the Outback rain slicker that folds into a backpack, that is easy to tie on the back of the saddle.  Headgear of choice, which included helmet, or straw hat, or wool hat, or the Outback waxed hat for rainy days, all got their use!  Half chaps work well for bushwacking and for keeping the heat in your lower extremities.  I’ve used cowboy boots, rubber boots, riding tennis shoes, paddock boots with thinsulate, all had their place!  And remember, you are camping, so pack light, wear everything multiple times, its OK to get and be dirty!  I used conditioner for my hair so the dirt and sweat wouldn’t stick!  Maybe the suntanned face was part sun, part dirt!

How about water?

We mostly camped in designated horse camps, or primitive camped when there was an appropriate area, as in the Ochocos out of Prineville, Oregon.  It used to be that a trailer water tank only held about 25 gallons.  There are more options now, check out

I’ll take advantage of streams and nearby lakes to make my water last, and carry a camper hose that spirals into a convenient carry tray to take with me.  Those can be purchased most anywhere, I bought mine at the local Bi-mart discount store.

My horn bags are designed to carry a water bottle in each side.  I use a refillable stainless steel one, and the other is my Seychelle water filtration bottle.

Most campsites will have pens, either wood or metal, many in Washington State have highlines.  I carry my swivel attachment that will allow my horse to pull back and not panic.  I also carry my own highline kit.  You can purchase a highline attachment for your trailer, lightweight corral sections, or use an electric corral set-up.  Mainly it’s what you prefer and what you think is best and easiest for your horse.

Feed and Supplies

Equipment is quite sophisticated these days, but even with a simple rig set up, you can manage to have fun!  I take weed free grass hay and alfalfa, I find my horse appreciated a little extra after an all day trail ride!  I organized daily feed rations in baggies, and took loose salt to add.  Dynamite Specialty Products has an excellent loose salt, as even the vets rarely carry it anymore, our past go-to source.

We would buddy up in twos, one hauling the horses, and one hauling the hay and supplies!  It worked great, and gave us the advantage of the extra rig in case we experienced any troubles!

Enjoying Mother Nature

We want to set up our trip in our favor.  Do our homework, plan our route, and also be flexible if conditions change.  Respect Mother Nature, and your limitations as humans, small pebbles on the beach.  Be thoughtful of choosing your horse buddy, and your riding buddies.  There should be a sense of responsibility and support towards each other when traveling the backcountry.

I do travel with a cell phone and battery pack. Will your battery pack last a week?  Likely not.  Will your cell phone work everywhere?  Likely not.  However, that is the part I like the best about horse camping, going far enough away to make you feel you are “away”, and not having to worry about anything except the needs of yourself and your horse.

Horses have a great sense of direction, they have never failed me.  They always prove the “no, it’s thatta way” person wrong.  Take some orange surveyors tape to mark intersections.  Everyone should pack a gun.  Three shots is the universal signal for help.  I figure if I had to wait it out while someone rode for help, I could stave off a few critters, or put my horse down if necessary.  Stay on the trail.  Avoid game trails that may look inviting.  Keep well hydrated and graze on saddlebag snacks.  Becoming dehydrated and having low blood sugar contributes to poor decision making.  Turn around if you encounter unexpected obstacles that will deplete your horse’s energy or put them at risk.  Use common sense.

Even though these methods and tools may be considered “old”, I would still be comfortable today traveling as such.

As a basic overview, I hope this inspires you to research for your own camping adventure with your horse!  There are lots of dude ranch offerings, but nothing to compare with your own fine animal taking you down the trail with cooperation and enthusiasm!

Happy Trails!


Photographs:  In order of appearance:  Blue Mountains, Oregon, Olive Lake in the background; Metolius-Windigo Trail from Sisters Cow Camp, Sisters, Oregon; Rim Trail, Newberry Caldera, La Pine, Oregon; Sister Mirror Lake, Three Sisters Wilderness, Oregon; Croften Ridge Trail, Mt. Adams, Washington; The Ochocos, Oregon; Crater Lake National Park, Oregon; Muddy Meadows, Mt. Adams, Washington; Stag Lake, Diamond Peak Wilderness, Oregon








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Riding at Riverside State Park

the view from Chica!
the view from Chica!

Spokane area has a lot of State Parks that accommodate horseback riding!  The most “famous” is likely Riverside State Park, with an equestrian center.  This central area has a large arena, a round pen, an obstacle course, day use parking area, restrooms, and a camping area, most are drive-thru’s, and I believe they have plug-ins for the living quarter trailers!  It’s really nice!  There are events held here, some of which have been de-spook clinics, horsemanship clinics, and demonstration days with various Backcountry Horseman Chapters.

Riverside with a friend, on board Chica
Riverside with a friend, on board Chica

There are trails from the central area, and also two other designated horse trailheads.  There are supposedly one hundred miles of horse trails, ranging from easy to some steep areas.  It is rocky, so I would shoe or boot accordingly.

Whiskey at Riverside
Whiskey at Riverside

So far, I’ve ridden from the Equestrian Center, along the river, and the bottom area.  I’ve also ridden from the trailhead off of Seven Mile Drive, where you can ride between that road as it ascends the ridge, and Hwy 291, lots of space there, single track, meandering in the pole line area and such . . . .

me on Whiskey, my instructor on Handsome Guy
me on Whiskey, my instructor on Handsome Guy

When I first moved here, there was a Backcountry Horsemen gathering and event, open to everyone, with a spaghetti lunch and lots of different demonstrations.  It’s a popular place for happenings, so I would check the website calendar if that is an issue for your weekend riding!

You can see the river from here, on Chica
You can see the river from here, on Chica
My postcard pic of me and Chica!

They also hold an annual endurance ride in the Spring!

I’d love to hear what you’ve been doing at Riverside!






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a mountain honeymoon with The Virginian

Spt09007[1]After a month with him by stream and canyon, a month far deeper into the mountain wilds than ever yet he had been free to take her, a month with sometimes a tent and sometimes the stars above them, and only their horses besides themselves—after such a month as this, she would take him to her mother. . . .and the old aunt. . . .would look at him, and be once more able to declare that the Storks had always preferred a man who was a man.

– Owen Wister, The Virginian, 1902

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Stories from Stehekin

I had opportunity to ride the high country this summer during my visit to The Stehekin Valley Ranch, located nine miles further from Stehekin Village.  This is a wonderful opportunity, since the only other option is riding in from the north through the Lake Chelan Sawtooth Wilderness area.

Cascade Corrals have sturdy Fjord horses, amongst others, to carry you with confidence to the high mountain destinations.  Ours was Coon Lake, leaving early afternoon, back in time for a hearty dinner with pie from The Bakery for dessert!

I was riding drag, and had Leroy the Mustang for my partner.  I’m grateful for the tolerance of these horses to make for a memorable journey for experienced and greenhorn alike!

A steady climb joining the PCT, along a rock slide cliffhanger (!) with views of splendid peaks and the Stehekin River below.  Arriving at our destination of Coon Lake, we tied up and hiked down to the lake, picturesque and pristine!

Here was a bear rootin’ for grubs!

Steep country, afford yourself the opportunity to experience this slice of the backcountry while visiting Stehekin!

Happy Trails!


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Forest fires and natural horsemanship

The Pacific Northwest is burning.  It is a national priority!  Schooling shows, poker rides and other events have been canceled, and local riding clubs are putting outings on hold.  The air quality has been very poor due to hazardous smoke particulate.  A friend passed on information from a vet that we should wait three days after the air clears to ride more than a walk…

The community effort here in Ellensburg from the fast moving Taylor Bridge fire kept folks busy with helping friends and neighbors move stock and belongings, with local veterinarians and volunteers helping around the clock at the fairgrounds with evacuated animals of all kinds.

Lightening strikes started multiple fires county wide, with the worst being the Table Mountain fire, shortly joining with the Wenatchee Complex fire.  The Table Mountain and Haney Meadow trails, Riders Cabin, and the Ken Wilcox Horse Camp, have all been destroyed.  The Kittitas County has been under a smokey haze for the last month.

It’s hard to think about asking your horse to work when the humans are advised to stay inside with doors and windows closed.

These fires follow an exceptional season of a cold and blustery spring into early summer, then days with wind conditions up to fifty miles per hour, then hot and dry days with temperatures near if not meeting the one hundred degree mark, and now fires throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Such is the situation here for our efforts with natural horsemanship.

Stay safe, and happy trails!


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Take the time with natural horsemanship

Just returned from taking Shyguy for his camping and riding trip to Oregon.  I stayed with friends, where I was graciously accommodated for a few days of riding.  The haul was about four hours to the Tygh Valley area, south of The Dalles.  West of the wheatfields, where timber and open meadows develop towards Mt. Hood.

Shyguy caught right up!  He comes to catch me now, standing quietly for haltering, and I no longer have to “shake hands”, or a hoof, as previously!  He self loaded without hesitation, and hauled quiet and relaxed.

Upon arrival, Shyguy waited patiently to unload, backing out of the trailer, stopping to take a look around.  He had his own sheltered run, and some time to share a larger paddock with his resident buddy.

We had a couple of rides out on neighboring private and state land, with friend Joy, right out from their place.  A delightful area of rolling landscape, creek crossings, open meadows, ponderosas and evergreens to practice our natural horsemanship skills!

Higher temperatures near 100 moved in, giving us a day off, before loading up and returning home.  Shyguy proved a good, quiet, and cooperative guest, and I made all effort to match his example!

Round up your natural horsemanship skills and head out for a ride!


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When horse camping. . . .with natural horsemanship

When horse camping……

I’m never without my highline kit.

This is a very compact couple of items that will fit in your stash area under the back seat of your truck.
I put mine together from the local Big R store.  Check with your ranch or feed store. This will save you about half of a pre-made kit.  
You need two tree saver straps.  These look like seatbelts.  One hundred feet of rope that can withstand a ton or two of pressure.  They will likely have to cut it for you off a big spool.  However many knot eliminators to thread through.  I use one for my horse and one for the feedbag.  I also use a tie blocker.  I attach it to the knot eliminator.  Since I’m of average height, this makes it easier for me to tie my horse.  I tie a knot in the lead rope so it can’t be pulled through.  My mounting block comes in handy to get it placed high enough on the tree.
This is an interesting link that will show you how to tie it.
Happy Trails and Good Riding!
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Purpose with natural horsemanship

Now that we’ve got our tune-up finished, where are we going to go with it?  Anywhere you want!  Your horse should be focused on you, looking at you for leadership, making it easier to be self sufficient with each other as you enjoy your riding season!

I’m preparing Shyguy next with some outings for long, slow miles, readying to go on a camping and riding vacation in July.  We’ll be meeting up with friends in Oregon to attend the Backcountry Horseman’s State Ride, sponsored by my chapter, the Columbia Gorge Chapter of the Oregon BCH.

Twenty eight miles east of Prineville, before the pass into the John Day area, turn right at Mark’s Creek Sno-Park.  We’ll be up there a-ways!

This area, known as the Ochocos, is a unique ecosystem, open grassy areas, interspersed with Ponderosa pines.  Home to bands of antelope, wild horses, and serenading coyotes.  This area sees, in June, a Father’s Day poker ride.  June can be the perfect time to ride this area.  I like to imagine it being as nice in July!

This is a popular yearly destination for many in Central Oregon, as it has been for me in the past!

Where are you headed with your natural horsemanship!

Tell with a comment below!


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Delilah’s big adventure

I’ve been “playing” with my mare, Delilah, this year to prepare her for the challenges of a horsecamping adventure!  Trail riding, obstacle course, boggy meadow, and creek crossings.  Self loads, and is comfortable hauling in the trailer.

Off we go!  Down to Desolation Meadow to join up with friends, old and new!  A seven hour haul going in, detouring for a culvert needing repair in the direct route from highway 395 out of Ukiah, Oregon.

Delilah was not legged up as much as I would have wished for the rugged and steep, near 20 mile main ride.  However, just being there for the experience and some light riding I knew would be beneficial.

Delilah did many things well.  Hauling comfortably, we arrived mid afternoon.  I set up camp with a highline.  In my experience, horses get used to highlines very quickly.  In the meantime, she tied quietly to the trailer munching her haybag.

She drank from the creek, tied quietly throughout the night, even figuring how to lay down to rest completely, and settled in 5 minutes when the group left camp for the long ride on Saturday.  We had some non-demanding time grazing in the meadow, listening to the drone of the many flies and bees!

We had a shorter loop first day out, about three hours.  The gelding she liked all of a sudden turned into a monster horse with noisy pack boxes!  I could not have anticipated that, but it is all experience!

She climbed the ridge steadily to Lost Lake, a nice reaching flat walk down the rocky roadbed to the boggy meadow with creek crossings.  This is one of the main challenges of the ride, taking the better part of an hour before getting back into camp.

Delilah lost her marble momentarily, so I put her in a circle until she calmed, a few minutes, and we went back to camp in an acceptably calm manner.  A horse light in experience, she got a little overwhelmed by the monster pack boxes, mules (likely her first time), and “well, just everything, Mom!  Can’t I just peel out and leave it all behind?!”  No, you may not!

I had her hang out in camp the next day, hitching a ride on Rosie, who didn’t want her herd to leave her!  These campouts and gatherings are great opportunities to work on your “stuff”!  You’ll find that you are not the only one!

One rider was riding a mule that had only been packing, two mules were being ponied, doing that and packing a pack saddle, one mule had a first time highlining lesson.  So whatever you think are your challenges, everyone has them!  Don’t hesitate to give you and your horse these opportunities!

In the past when I’ve opportunity to stay out a week, ten days, or two weeks with my horse, I have felt that I could do anything with my horse after that!

Any horse camping adventures out there?  I’d love to hear, see your post, message me on facebook!

Here’s to happy trails in natural horsemanship!


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Adventures in horse camping

I had opportunity to revist an area I had visited previously in August of 2008, Desolation Meadows in the Umatilla National Forest, south of Pendleton, Oregon, and just out of Ukiah.  This is beautiful, high, rugged country in the Blue Mountain area!  A memorable trip!

Forest, a member of various BCH chapters, has been organizing a yearly ride here, 2008 being the first.  This year I decided to attend to give my mare, Delilah, the experience of horse camping.  Although I didn’t consider her sufficiently legged up to ride every opportunity, I figured the experience with light riding would be of benefit!

It was a seven hour haul from Ellensburg.  Out of the five rigs that attended, I believe I came the fartherst.  We all had to haul in the “back way” so to speak, since a culvert was out on the number 10 road coming from highway 395.  I met Forest in Ukiah, and proceeded on the Blue Mountain Scenic Byway, a little windy in parts, but paved, and giving up some wonderful scenery of beautiful high, open country!  There’s plenty of other camping and riding trails in this area!

Then 17 miles of dirt road, steep and washboardy in areas, passing Olive Lake, and about 5 miles beyond to the meadow marked by the old hay storage and corral, and the old Forest Service cabin across the road.

I’m a Washington State BCH independent member, and also a member of the Columbia Gorge BCH chapter in Hood River, Oregon.  We had other members from that same chapter,  also folks from the Washington State Rattlesnake Ridge chapter,  and the West Cascades Oregon chapter. Being a BCH member wasn’t necessary, just an invite from Forest, and when and where to be there!  This was a great example of folks getting to know each other from being a member so that gatherings like this can take place!

Since Marlene was camp-bound, she elected herself camp cook.  She spoiled us with dutch oven cooking during the weekend, with prime rib the first night and some kind of awesome steak roast the second night!  I felt fortunate to gather up a few of her pointers on how it’s done, and the difference between cast aluminum cooking and cast iron cooking.

Folks came with truck campers, a motor home, I had my weekender camper horsetrailer, a few slept in the tack rooms or the trailer itself, and one hardy soul pitched a tent!  We camped at approximately 5,500 feet, riding higher to the ridges.  It warmed up to around 80 during the day, and around 37 at night!

We had one motor home hauling a bumper pull trailer, and the rest of the tow vehicles were Dodge trucks!  Mules and horses were evenly split.

Forest and another of his friends were kind enough to get the trail cleared so that a loop could be made, near 20 miles.  I had previously ridden two days of “out and backs” to accomplish the same thing.

Forest is not sure if he will host this ride again, or visit another area in the future.  I’m glad I took the opportunity to attend!

I’d love to have you post on your camping and riding adventures this summer!





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