One of the first considerations when planning a horsecamping trip is: Has the HORSE ever been camping? Owners of horses boarded, stabled, pastured in highly populated areas should remember that the horse’s environment is urbanization. The animal is used to 18-wheelers, city buses, baby strollers on trails and the trappings of city life. This equine is a ‘city horse’ and may never have seen a rabbit, squirrel or night-raiding raccoon.
The same holds true for the horse boarded, stabled, pastured in the country. This animal is used to outdoor creatures — deer, squirrels, raccoons, skunks. He may never have seen a baby stroller or a bike on a trail and such contraptions can be just as terrifying to him as that raccoon to a city horse.
For the barned, stalled or stabled horse, nights are usually the spookiest. The barn horse lives in a stall with an overhead roof and walls around him. Even with a paddock, the barn horse moves INSIDE the stall if he becomes frightened or nervous. He seeks the security of his stall where he’s fed, housed and sheltered.
Pastured horses aren’t usually as nervous as barn horses on camping trip simply because they’re used to being OUTSIDE. They may have two- or three-sided pasture shelters. And they may even share the pasture with other horses. But being outside at night is nothing new for them. Pastured and outdoor paddocked horses are more used to open sky, night sounds and flying creatures such as owls and bats than are barned horses.
To help a horse overcome some of his camping anxiety, plan a ‘camping trip’ in his own barnyard. For the inside horse, put him into an outside corral or paddock where he can’t get hurt. Turn him in early in the day so he can inspect the area and get a feel for the ‘country’ both inside and outside the corral fence. Feed and water him there for a couple days if possible.
The first night he’ll usually spend on his feet pacing the fence and wondering why he’s been forgotten out there with all those night terrors around. The second night he’ll be more relaxed. One can even ‘camp’ alongside the corral to get an idea of all the noise a horse naturally makes at night plus providing some verbal assurance for the horse even if its only snoring. One will know when the inside horse has accepted the outdoor life — the animal will begin to lie down in real dirt.
For the outdoor horse, move him into the barnyard and turn him into a small corral or paddock. He won’t be as nervous but he will be concerned about losing all his pasture space — and maybe his pasture buddies.
Horses will suffer some degree of stress on a camping trip and when placed into that new environment. What degree of stress and reaction will vary among horses. Once you know what to expect from your horse — and the horse knows what is expected of him — both his and your camping trip will be easier, happier, more enjoyable and a lot less stressful!!