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Horseback Riding: Saddle Up!
By Josie Piper
Whatever kind of trail riding you enjoy, it is available. If you are just a casual rider, hopefully there are places near you that you can use quite readily. Those who enjoy a good day's ride and different places for the weekend will find that Wisconsin offers equestrian parks with camping and scenic trails. The really serious trail rider will be looking for challenging terrains and rides of more than one day's length. If you enjoy roughing it, you can go on pack trips, even in Wisconsin.
If you are going for more than a day's ride, pick your location by taking into consideration your type of riding, the scenic vistas, accommodations and cost. If you are unfamiliar with the place you have chosen, ask questions of someone who has been there, or call the property manager and ask about the terrain, how many miles of trails, are there switchbacks in case you get tired, do they have maps, and if water is available. If you are into pack trips, Wilderness Pursuit at Neilsville will take you on a pack trip for whatever duration you would like.
Most of the parks offer camp sites, pit toilets, hitching rails, slip stalls or corrals, water, and maps of the trails. At a few, you will need to carry your own drinking water. Electrical hookups for campers are extremely rare, if any, in equestrian camps. This gives us something to work on for the future, as well as showers. In some of the State Park facilities you may use the showers in the regular campgrounds, depending on the facilities.
Some Wisconsin trails are converted railroad beds. Most of them provide a place to park your trailer, but not to camp. In our travels we have found some private campgrounds that will let you camp with horses away from the regular sites, as long as you clean up after your horses.
In the National Forest camps, if you are going with a group, reservations are generally required. Horses are NOT allowed in the regular campgrounds. You can ride just about anywhere in the Forests, but it is advisable to contact or stop at the local ranger station. Find out what the rules are, let them know you will be riding in them, and get a map of the area you intend to ride. These areas can be vast and getting lost is very easy. Logging roads permeate the forest and make for easy riding.
If you like meeting new people and going different places for the weekend, many groups around the state offer weekend rides. Generally, for $5 to $25 they'll have a ride on Saturday and Sunday, entertainment Saturday night, and a meal or two. Most of these will be an all day ride with a pickup point for injured horses, or horse and riders too tired to continue. There will be someone leading the group as well as bringing up the rear to prevent stragglers from getting lost. An interesting facet of this type of ride is that many of them are on private property, and not on the same old trails you have been riding. Most of these types of rides are published in horse magazines and papers around the state such as the Horseman's News, Country Today, the Liberty Sentinel, as well as club newsletters.
For the riders that enjoy two or three days, or up to a week of organized riding, there are commercial trips available. You will find most of the week long rides outside of Wisconsin. The cost is approximately $125 for a 2-3 day ride or up to $150 for a 5-7 day ride, including meals. At most of them you will need to furnish your own sleeping facilities, tent, camper, trailer, etc. Some will have cabins available for an extra charge, but you still have to supply your own sheets and bedding materials. They provide three meals a day and showers. Some have a laundry, electricity and/or water hookups, stalls for your horses, and nightly en-tertainment. Entertainment can consist of a fun horse show, movies, horse and tack auctions, live music, dancing, and most of them seem to have a resident "camp character." They will offer an all-day fast ride, or an all-day slow ride, or a half-day slow or fast ride. The all-day rides will have a hot lunch catered to the riders on the trail, usually at some scenic spot. You are not required to go with the organized group. Some may have trail maps, some may not. If you go out on your own it is best to carry a compass (make sure you know how to use it), and let someone at camp know you are on your own in case you don't return for supper. The commercial camps will also have grain and hay available for sale if you didn't bring enough along. Generally it is offered at a reasonable price unless the area has had a drought or bad crop weather. Keep in mind that their idea of horse hay may not be the same as yours or your horse's. It is usually best to bring along your own grain rather than buy it on the ride because the horse is used to eating it. He may go off his feed or get colic if his diet is changed.
Additional recreational opportunities may accompany some rides. Some riders enjoy swimming their horses at the end of the ride after they have cooled them down. However, it can be dangerous if not handled properly. If your horse is not an experienced swimmer, use a neck rope. Some horses will rear when they get in deep water before they begin swimming. A rope gives the rider protection. If dislodged and hit on the head by the horse's knee or foot, a temporary incapacitation may result in drowning. Always have someone with you when swimming a horse.
Fishing, swimming and canoeing is sometimes available at an additional charge. Most rides offer church services on Sunday either in the mess hall or at a scenic spot along the trail. Commercial camps usually offer one to two rides per month from May through October. Some restrict attendance numbers, and some will have anywhere from 300 to 1,500 riders on them.
For the really serious riders, you can find week-long rides through the Southwestern and Western states and Western provinces of Canada that cover 10-50 miles a day in a continuous direction. Provisions are made to bring your camping equipment forward each day from the previous night's camp to the new location. Usually tents are provided and gourmet meals are served. This type of trail ride will cost approximately $400-$600 for the week. You will have the option of using your own horse or one of theirs.
Backpack trips into the mountain wilderness can be found throughout the Western states. Meals, housing and horses are usually furnished.
Some of the National Forests in the West have horse campgrounds. The facilities are usually are quite primitive. Camping fees run $8-$10 per night. You can obtain maps and information by calling the National Forest Service Office.
When traveling out of state with your horses, you will need to check on the Interstate Health Requirements. Contagious diseases are a concern for all horse owners. Some states will not allow you to bring your own hay, as these states do not want certain weeds or vegetation brought in. Some states require you to stop at Inspection or Branding Stations to prove ownership of your horses because horse rustling is still a real concern. It is best to call the State's Department of Agriculture to check on their rules or talk with someone who has hauled their own horses through these states. Checking ahead can save you time and problems such as fines and penalties.
Josie Piper has owned, raised and ridden horses and promoted recreational uses of the horse all her life. In an effort to develop horse trails in Wisconsin, she became a member, director, and Trails Committee Chairman for the Wisconsin State Horse Council, Inc. for almost 20 years. She has worked with local trail users and units of government, the Dept. of Natural Resources and the U.S. Forestry Department to locate, lay out, procure funding and build horse camps and trails throughout Wisconsin. She has received recognition awards for her efforts. This article, with permission from the author, is reprinted from the Wisconsin Horseman's Trail Guide Directory, which Ms. Piper has edited and published for over 10 years.
Excerpted from Woodall's Plan-It·Pack-It·Go...