Horse Camping in Chequamegon National Forest

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Camping with horses is more detailed than just going for a trail ride; it’s more detailed than going camping; it’s more work, dirtier, smellier and it’s more fun. Last year was the first year I ever went horse camping. I took Cham (pronounced Sham) the first time because he is my oldest, most experienced horse and I thought that he would like it and he mostly does. He got to go again this last weekend, September 14-16. Partly because it was his turn and partly because his boots fit the best (Chequamegon’s trails are very rocky) and I didn’t know if there would be mud, there wasn’t. The run-off stream beds were even totally dry, that surprised me as usually there is quite a bit of water in the low areas on this trail ride.

We had all the things we needed: hay, water, tack, electric fencing, batteries and my air mattress, sleeping bag, extra blankets, food, water and riding gear. When I first went camping with this group last year I brought my tent (got really rained on the first night) and significantly more camping gear, but others have much bigger rigs so I quit hauling things like a camp stove and pots/pans and changed to sleeping in my SUV (it’s easier and I have screens and magnets for hot, buggy nights). This weekend the weather was amazing, some of the trees were turning brilliant, but a lot of the leaves were falling off because of the drought. There were basically no bugs-well I did have one tick on me (which makes me itchy just thinking about) and yellow jackets were buzzing people’s drinks around the campfire. It was cold enough at night that all the extra things like jackets and towels were piled on top of me in my sleeping bag for any extra warmth they would provide.

This campground in the Chequamegon is off of Sawyer road and Forest Road 555. It is unimproved – no water, no power, no toilet. So the club rents a porta-pottie which is much better than the alternative. We each haul in our water for ourselves and our horses. Members also mow the center of the open area to help reduce insect life…ticks and mosquitoes and toxic botany…poison ivy and have a substantial stack of firewood ready and waiting. Usually the club members have three to four ride weekends out of this campsite per year.

Horse camping from base camp goes like this: get to camp Friday night (some go find a fish fry at a local bar-Wisconsin tradition) and sit around the campfire talking, drinking wine or beer, playing guitar after you’ve set up your site and your horse enclosure. Saturday morning (some people are very early and somewhat noisy risers who get the campfire re-started) breakfast with the group by donating eggs or bacon or sausage or hash browns and group cooking it (I like oatmeal, fruit and nuts so I bring my own stash-I have extra, but so far no-one has wanted any, I still bring bacon to donate) and coffee (I like hot chocolate), clean up, and get ready to ride by 10 a.m. Ride for 3-4 hours mostly at a walk on a looping, trees down, hilly, sometimes very narrow or fairly steep trail, get back to camp, settle your horse and eat a late lunch of your own making, go out for a second short ride later and prepare for chili dump (you and everyone else brings something for chili supper and it gets dumped into a large stew pot and heated). After supper and dessert (several people usually bring some sweet treats to share) comes drinking more wine or beer, singing and story telling around the campfire. The night music includes hounds (hounds are early morning music too because of bear hunters), coyotes, owls and skittering rodent type sounds. Then into your sleeping quarters when you’re done watching the fire and the stars. Sunday morning repeat, although we had blueberry pancakes and maple syrup (thanks to Lauri), yum. The trail ride on Sunday is usually shorter and not everyone stays after and eats lunch. But everyone cleans up their area, packs up and heads home.

Secrets to being able to ride that long include: having a good saddle, maybe a fleece saddle pad, riding pants with less inseam bulk, using Desitin or other nether parts unguent, and having time in the saddle otherwise. Also taking a break and walking on your own feet can help. For your horse: being fit, good fit saddle, clean pad, clean horse, boots or shoes and if there’s a rub change tack or add lubricant.

The age of the riders is quite a spread, from 5-years-old to in the 70s, this time there were no kids and the oldest rider was 66, but it still is a group with different ages all together.  There were eight to 10 riders this weekend, some people just drop in instead of camping, often there are up to 20 riders, but then we tend to go in groups instead of all together. And there were no ‘rodeos’ – everyone’s horses was well behaved. Ah well no real adventure, horror stories to tell this time, no bears in camp or midnight searches for escaped horses. Maybe next time.

Cham (sham), saddled in his dressage saddle because the other saddle caused a rub.

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