I'm in the middle of bow season, my husband and I have yet to fill our elk tags, and I'm reflecting on hunting trips in the past. What went well, what went bad, and what to do better this time around. Here are the 5 things that I learned from the very first hunting trip we took with the horses.
-Have clear expectations: Whether you are going alone or with someone make sure you have clear expectations for the trip. The first time I took my horses hunting my then boyfriend now husband, we had very different ideas of how we would use the horses on the trip which caused some unnecessary friction during the trip. Since then, we have learned to discuss a plan ahead of time of how we will use the horses so nobody is getting unnecessarily frustrated just because the vision was not the same.
-Pellets vs cubes vs bales: The first time I went out I used alfalfa cubes to feed the horses. The biggest motivating factor was budget. The cube bags at the time were on sale and they had all the nutrition my horses needed. If I had to do it again I would go with the pellets instead. The cubes were big and hard and needed to be soaked in water and broken up before my horses would eat them. The pellets are smaller, easier to chew, and had all the same nutrient requirements as the cubes. I dont bring baled hay. It takes up a lot of space in the truck/trailer and in my area it is really hard to find certified weed free hay ...which most places where you need or want to take horses for hunting will require certified weed free hay. Check with you local BLM or Forest Service office to make sure.
-Highline vs hobbles vs panels vs electric fence: I have used all 4 of these to confine and restrict my horses when we are away from home. They all have their advantages and disadvantages. It's really up to you and your horse what works best. The one thing I absolutely would not do is just leave your horse tied to the trailer for long periods of time. I have seen too many cut up legs, bent fenders, missing hubcaps for that to be a recommendation. My personal preference is a highline. I used this on my first hunting trip and it worked great. Horses have the ability to move around a little bit without being able to run off. The horses I used it on were pretty young a 2 and a 3 year old, and we had no issues at all. With hobbles I have had horses learn how to run...at a full gallop...with hobbles on. With panels and electric fences I have never personally had a horse get loose but I have seen other horses I was traveling with get loose knocking down and crashing through panels and fences...causing chaos.
-Necessary equipment: Here are some things that I brought along that I'm so very glad that I did.
ropes and extra ropes, buckets and extra buckets, hoof picks, hoof nippers, hoof rubber boots, extra headstall. If you think you need one of something, better bring an extra. Inevitable things will go missing or get broken and it's always relieving to know there is a back up.
-Young vs old horses: I have only started to have the advantage of having “old” horses along to pack out our harvest. On our first horse hunting trip the horses were 2 and 3 year olds just learning about the whole experience. I can say now, that there is nothing better in the world than having a horse that has “been there done that” when it comes to being out in the wilderness. You can take younger horses but just keep in mind that even if they have a good mind, the whole experience is new to them and they haven't built a bag of good experiences they can draw on in difficult situations. With the younger, newer horses it is critical that you do your homework. Practice at home with pack saddles, panniers, highlines, hobbles, ponying, crossing water, anything you think you might need or do on your trip. If you do it once successfully at home, you better do it a hundred more times to make sure its routine and not something your horse has done well, once. Today I am reaping the benefits of several years of consistency with my mares. Chardy will now pack out elk in the dead of night, through thick brush, after not being ridden for several months from having a foal (that’s literally how we did it last season). I would have never asked her to do something like that her first season. I have always done my best to set my young horses up for success and now in their “older” years (Chardy is only 8 this year) They are reliable and dependable.