Wondering how to enjoy the outdoors and camp with your horse without leaving a huge
foot hoofprint? Check out these 8 tips on sustainable horse-trekking.
There’s a Nature Reserve down the road that I have mentioned in a previous post, its collection of forbidden creatures all ablaze down the bottom of the entrance sign. Horses happen to be one of them, and Z and I tend to roll our eyes and have a groan as we plod past onto more legal territories.
But they’re just horses, right? They’re, like, part of nature. Surely they cant do much damage?
Well, apparently we were wrong. They kinda can.
Apparently In some parts of the USA , where horse packing is more of a ‘thing’, things have gotten pretty ugly. In his Ebook, “Ride One, Pack One: Tips for Low Impact Horse Camping“, Ted Ladd has the following to say:
With more and more people using less and less wilderness, the backcountry looks different. You can tell where horses have been tied to trees every summer for years. So one reason to change is to allow the wilderness to repair itself, so give our grandchildren the chance to walk into a high country meadow and exclaim, “ I’m the first person ever to come here!”.
Well thanks Ted, but in WA, we folks don’t have to worry about that. Yet.
If we see a hoof print on the trail, its still novelty enough to warrant squeals of excitement from the kidlets, and there is a marked absence of high country meadows that need repairing over here in our sunbaked state.
Yet, Ted also wisely states,
“If we horse packers don’t change our ways and lessen our impact on the land very soon, someone will do it for us. Environmental organisations have already pushed for zones where horses are no longer allowed to go. And they’ve won.”
Um, yeah. Over here, I feel like us horsey mob kinda got locked out before we ever had a chance to get in there and ruin anything. And if our grandchildren are to continue the experience of heading out into nature with horses or donkeys, I think we need to tread more carefully. Certainly in the past, I could’ve done a better job of traveling more sustainably with my equines, and a recent visit to a fragile and magical place got me thinking about how I could lessen my impact when traveling with my animals.
So this year, I’ve decided to make a real effort to travel a little more lightly over the land. Here’s how…
1. STAY ON THE TRAIL
When the trail has become a bog hole or been taken over by a large puddle, it makes sense to go around it. At least, that’s what my donkeys would argue and would choose to do every time. Not really a problem if you’re now of the few passing through, but as trail users increase, the puddles get larger, the trails wider, and the vegetation suffers. Even one horse veering off the path and walking through a bog leaves tracks that can last for years.
In the end, we convinced our donkeys just to stay on the straight and narrow and cross those puddles and icky bits. Its all great water-crossing practice for them, and besides, its not like they need to worry about getting their new hiking boots muddy or anything.
2. BUCKET-WATER YOUR STOCK
Even when your animals are able to access their own water at your chosen campsite, it can still be a good idea to collect it by way of portable bucket and deliver it to your animals, away from fragile creek or riverbeds. You’ll be saving the banks from unnecessary erosion and the water won’t be as muddied up when you go down to fill your own drinking water containers. Plus, a nice fresh bucket of water is a satisfying way to thank your horse for his hard work that day- you’re practicing sustainable horse-trekking and he doesn’t even have to get his toes wet.
3. BURN THAT BOG ROLL
We cant blame our horses for this one, but all too often, campsites full of this stuff are the norm.
Apparently it is the ‘done thing’ to bury rather than burn. But in reality, who ever buries their toilet paper deep enough, especially in Australia, where we are often dealing with rock hard soil? Everyone worries about poo, but in reality, its the toilet paper that can take years to break down. Ughh.
Nothing worse than spotting rain-pocked , month-old toilet paper adorning the back bushes behind camp. It might seem a bit gross, but in the last few months on the trail, we took to (carefully!) carting our toilet paper back to the campfire and burning it. And if we didn’t happen to have a fire that night, it’d end up in a double-layered rubbish bag.
4. WATCH WHAT YOU’RE FEEDING
Speak to an environmentalist or National Park ranger about why your horses are not permitted there, and 9 ties out of 10, the answer will be ‘weeds’. For example, the BNT guidebooks state,
“Many seeds pass undigested through a horse and will readily grow in he manure. Nobody wants a 5000km National Weed Trail’.
5. BRUSH THOSE HOOVES
In Eastern Australia, ‘dieback’ is a term oft use to descibe tree decline caused by factors such as salinity, drought or insect damage.
Phytophthora Dieback, however, refers to the deadly introduced plant disease caused by Phytophthora cinnamomi (pronounced Fy-tof-thora – meaning plant destroyer in Greek). There are over 140 species of Phytophthora, but the species that causes the most severe and widespread damage to native plants in Western Australia is P. cinnamomi.
Road construction, earth moving, driving infested vehicles on bush roads and stock movement can all contribute significantly to the spread of Phytophthora Dieback.
Just as hikers brush their boots off at boot cleaning stations, horses’ boots/ hooves can be brushed off with a steel hoofbrush or dandy brush. Put your portable bucket/ container underneath to catch any potentially contaminated soil, then tip the contents into the metal tray of the boot cleaning station.
6. BOOT THAT POOP
Horse manure takes longer to break down when it is left in piles. Before you leave camp, break these up by giving them a good kick with the side of your boot. The scattered remains of the manure will break down in no time.
7. CONSIDER HIGH-LINING
A highline is simply a length of rope stretched between two trees to which you have tied your stock. Highlining is a safe, humane and environmentally-friendly way of containing your horse. It is best to string your highline between a pair of tree saver straps (some people use old seatbelts or even their saddle girths). This prevents trees from being damaged prevent by highline ropes.
LEAVE NO TRACE TREAD LIGHTLY FOR SUSTAINABLE HORSE-TREKKING
We;ve all heard of the ‘leave no trace’ backpacking principles. But with 500 kilograms of hard-hoofed animal pooing, peeing and pawing accordingly, it can be a challenge.
I have a friend who has an admirable motto- to leave every place better than she finds it. Whether she’s in a cafe, camp, or vacating a rental house.
This is a challenge I plan to take up when camping with my horses. This might be as simple as leaving some sticks/firewood by a hut fireplace for the next camper, removing a clump of Patersons’ curse or other noxious weed from the campsite, or removing litter from previous campers. I just wish I had thought to do more of this on the Bicentennial National Trail, in between near-death episodes. Oh well, learning the art of sustainable horse trekking is a learning process, just like anything I suppose.