I had been doing posts on endurance horse basics, and then got kind of sidetracked. Now that I’m doing a monthly radio show on the Horse Radio Network and need to do a good ‘endurance riding tip’ with each episode, I thought I might start the series back up again. Last month I talked about endurance horse longevity, one of my favorite topics.
Another favorite topic of mine is safety. It takes a lot of time, effort, and dedication to work with a horse enough to turn him or her into something that is safe to take out in public.
For those that aren’t interested in doing this kind of basic homework with their horse, might I suggest you add the $1 million liability insurance onto your AERC membership for an extra $20.00. Probably a good idea to have that even if you have really well broke horses. I have it as part of my AHA membership.
AERC Gold membership (U.S. members only). For an additional $20 for individual (one adult and non-adult children) or $40 for two adults (and non-adult children) AERC members can add $1 million personal excess liability coverage through Equisure.
The best way to train a horse to camp overnight is to practice at home. Going to an endurance ride for any horse can be an exciting experience, even moreso if it is completely new to them. It can also be a stressful experience too, especially if your horse has never camped overnight and now has to deal with all of these new things happening on top of the excitement that can be generated from being in a ridecamp with dozens of other horses.
By the time I start training a horse to camp overnight on my trailer, I have already done a fair amount of what I consider basic training. See my previous blog posts on hobbling, tying, and some examples of how this kind of training has saved my bacon more than once.
Even if you plan to use a portable corral system at rides your horse should know how to tie to your trailer. You never know when you may not be able to set up your corral due to limited space, or perhaps your horse or somebody else’s horse has run through your corral and damaged it (this does happen!). You could get hurt during the ride, leaving others to attend to your horse. They may have no choice but to tie your horse to something for several hours.
Things that you should do in preparation for overnight camping with your horse at an endurance ride:
- Hobble and rope train your horse (this sets up the initial lesson of “giving to pressure”). Hobble trained horses are less likely to panic and run and more likely to wait to be rescued
- Set up your overnight camping containment system (trailer-tie, portable corral, etc.) in a safe enclosed area at home
- Set up the same water buckets, hay bags and feeders that you will be using at the ride, and fill with hay and water just like you were at a ride
- Start exposing your horse to your camping setup gradually. The amount of time can vary based upon how your horse does
- Gradually increase the amount of time your horse spends in your containment system, building up to being able to leave your horse in/on it for several hours and then overnight
- After you work or ride your horse, return to the camping setup and allow your horse to spend time eating/drinking and getting comfortable with everything. This new area is going to be their “home away from home”
- If possible, and after your horse is comfortable in the camping setup, take a ‘buddy’ horse and separate that horse from yours. Even if you go to a ride alone, you may end up parked close enough for your horse to buddy up with another horse. It’s a good idea to know how your horse handles separation anxiety
- If you know your horse is going to roll after a workout, or a bath – put him in the camping setup and let him learn the limitations. Most horses can and do roll in portable corrals and on trailer-tie arms. Your horse probably won’t think twice about rolling after his endurance ride is over, so it can be extremely beneficial if he’s had the opportunity to learn how to do it safely ahead of home
- Review what you are going to do if your horse should get tangled or caught in something. This is kind of like having an escape plan. Do you have a sharp knife handy if you have to cut a rope? Is the quick release snap where you can reach it if your horse is on the ground with a leg wrapped around his tie rope?
- Keep practicing your horses ‘at home camping’ skills and exposure to your setup until you feel that your horse is comfortable and familiar with it. There are a variety of containment systems because they don’t all work for every horse. If your horse is not respecting the corral panels, or is pulling on his tie rope then back up and do more basic training or try a different system until you feel confident that your horse will stay contained if he does panic
- Always check the length of any rope you tie with to make sure it is the proper length every single time you tie your horse. Ropes can stretch, and quick release knots can be pulled on causing the rope to lengthen. A horse only needs an extra inch of rope to hang himself!
Here are some things that you should NOT do!
- Never clip a quick release snap of any kind to your horse’s halter
- Do not bring a horse to a public event that cannot be tied safely
- Don’t use bungees to tie with – in the event of a wreck they will break and can cause huge damage to both horse and human
- Don’t wait to get help if you are having problems - you don’t want to turn a minor issue into something serious!
Trust me, hearing the sound of horses running around camp in the middle of the night, or even during the day can make your heart skip a beat. Especially if those loose horses are heading towards your horse. It’s even worse if they happen to be dragging stuff behind them. Most of the time if something is being dragged, it is the remnants of an electric corral. Sometimes, it may be a broken tie-arm, rope, horse blanket or part or all of a metal corral.
Camping at home training can reduce the likelihood that it is YOUR horse running amok in camp.
In my experience, horses will typically get caught or have a wreck at least once with their containment system. Either when they roll, or when scratching an ear with a hind foot and getting it over their rope. Plan on this happening and don’t be surprised and don’t panic. If it happens, stay calm while safely and quickly releasing your horse. It is preferable to have this happen at home, rather than at a ride.