If you are planning a trek along the Bicentennial National Trail or just want to read more about horse trekking, there are some great resources out there. From accounts of truly unique journeys along the Bicentennial National Trail to manuals on the nuts and bolts of pack-saddling, here is a run down of my favourite books and resources to get BNT-ready.
If you only ever buy one book on pack saddling, this might just be the one. This long-awaited bible of Horse Travel by experienced long-rider CuChullaine O’Reilly finally hit the shelves last year. It contains everything, literally everything you need to know about horse travel.
The book details how to organize the trip, plan a route, choose the proper equipment and purchase horses. Traditional challenges such as loading a pack saddle, avoiding dangerous animals, fording rivers and even outwitting horse thieves are covered here along with ingenious solutions to modern dilemmas like crossing international borders, surviving vehicle traffic and negotiating with hostile bureaucrats.
All aspects of equine welfare including feeding, watering, saddling and health care are also covered.
Technical details such as daily travel distance, where to locate nightly shelter and ways to avoid cultural conflicts are among the hundreds of specific topics examined. Check it out!
2. Packhorse Trekking Manual
One of the few manual-type books written specifically with the Bicentennial National Trail in mind, Mike Allen’s Packhorse Trekking Manual contains knowledge from Mike’s horse packing treks, from making pack saddles and gear and from people trekking the BNT.
The book’s nine chapters cover Getting Organised, Choosing Horses, Horse Care, Horse Equipment, Camping Equipment, On the Trail, Campcraft, Food, Hazards and Safety. A great book to start with when you are first getting your head around the magnitude of everything a long haul trek might entail.
The Packhorse Trekking Manual is available for purchase through the Bicentennial National Trail website.
During our time on the BNT, we had the pleasure of listening to Tim Cope talk at a seminar in Canberra. What an inspiring guy!
This book tells the tales of his epic horseback ride on the trail of Genghis Khan. His journeys take him from Karakorum, the ancient capital of Mongolia, through Kazakhstan, Russia, Crimea and the Ukraine to the Danube River in Hungary. From horse-riding novice to travelling three years and 10,000 kilometres on horseback, accompanied by his dog Tigon, Tim learnt to fend off wolves and would-be horse-thieves, and grapple with the extremes of the steppe as he crossed sub-zero plateaux, the scorching deserts of Kazakhstan and the high-mountain passes of the Carpathians.
I first stumbled across this gem when I was on the hunt for any books to do with horse packing. At the time, I was disappointed to find the book included little detail of Tim’s horse management, gear choices, or pack saddling strategies, but to be fair, the book is written for a wider audience (and not a tiny niche of horse-packing enthusiasts)and is justifiably padded out with heaps of interesting info on the post-soviet world he traverses.
4. Horses, Hitches, and Rocky Trails: The Original Guide to Packing, Camping, and Getting Along with the Wilderness
The orginal cowboy manual, this book is as humorous as it is informative. It reads just like a wild-west cowboy talks, and some of the language might have antipodeans raising their eyebrows in confusion.
Littered with brilliant sketches, often of ‘wrecks’ that would bring on a case of nerves in even the bravest of horse packers, it goes into great detail on various knots and how to hitch odd loads such as game, sacks, bales, and even an emergency stretcher!
Sharon was another lovely person that we had the pleasure of meeting during our time on the trail.
Sharon and her husband Ken were officially recognized as the first to complete the Bicentennial National Trail in its entirety, and this wonderful book tells the tale of their adventure.
As the blurb states, these two brave explorers opened the door to the rest of us, and left this spell-binding story to show us the way.
6. Flight of the Black Cockatoo, by Craig Landy and Shirley Marr
Having spent five years living on and traveling the Bicentennial National Trail, friendly trekkers Craig and Shirley are well-known along its length.
Their book reads a little like a transcribed diary, which is just perfect for would-be BNT travelers who want to know the ins and outs of various places and camps on the trail, rather than those who are after a carefully formulated armchair read.
Even more interesting is the fact that the couple commenced their BNT travels in a gypsy wagon they built themselves, before swapping over to packsaddles for the rougher southern half of the BNT.
This is the epic tale of a 3,000-mile journey through the most pristine backcountry of the American West.
Four friends rode horseback across an almost contiguous stretch of unspoiled public lands, border to border, from Mexico to Canada. For their trail horses, they adopted wild mustangs from the US Bureau of Land Management that were perfectly adapted to the rocky terrain and harsh conditions of desert and mountain travel. A meticulously planned but sometimes unpredictable route brought them face to face with snow pack, downpours, and wildfire; unrelenting heat, raging rivers, and sheer cliffs; jumping cactus, rattlesnakes, and charging bull moose; sickness, injury, and death. But they also experienced a special camaraderie with each other and with the mustangs.
Although their cowboy-ish approach may come across as a little reckless or off-putting to some, the book is full or brilliant photos (and plenty of high drama!) and definitely worth a look.
This is the story of Noel and Jackie, who set off to ride the Bicentennial National Trail with five unbroken, rescued Standardbred horses.
The first thing I noticed upon flicking through it was that they didn’t complete the whole trail- in fact the whole book is based on a journey of only a few hundred kilometers. Jackie Parry proves that no matter how short, long, hard, or easy the trip, in the hands of a decent writer, every journey can be a great story.
Jackie’s honesty, self-deprecating tone and humour all make for a refreshing read. Anyone who has spent any time on the BNT will be able to smile, nod, and relate to at least one of their dramas- runaway horses, dangerous traffic, locked gates, or the despair one feels to find no grass at the end of a long day. There is no boastfulness, no sugar-coating or covering up of blunders- this book is like a refreshing glass of iced tea after a hot day on the BNT.
Advice on what to take, what to leave behind, and how to travel in order to minimize damage to the trail, camp, horses, and yourself. Many horse packers require three or four horses for each rider. This manual aspires to only two, so that you can ride one, and pack the other.
Although the book is short and somewhat poorly edited, it is one of the few packsaddling books out there that actually look at factors of environmental sustainablity when camping with horses.
10. Tracks magazines
Tracks is the periodical magazine published by the Bicentennial National Trail to keep BNT members up to date with developments, advice and contacts for trekking as well as stories from those using the Trail.
11. Bicentennial National Trail Guidebooks
If there’s one mandatory item for planning a Bicentennial National Trail trek, it would have to be a BNT guidebook.
Although some maps (HEMA, rooftop) have a visible BNT route, the guidebooks are a must for vital notes on various campsites, private property and potential navigational issues. There are 12 Bicentennial National Trail guidebooks and these are available through the BNT website.
In addition to the above, there are also some great online resources out there that might help in planning a Bicentennial National Trail trek.
Your favorite horse trekking book missing from this list? Make sure to add it to the comments below so that others may enjoy it too.
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