Preparing for a Safe and Fun Pack Trip into the High Country

Traveling into the high country is a unique and exciting experience. Planning and preparedness are key to making your adventure the best it can be. Contact the Forest Service to verify the current regulations, including fire bans, before you leave. It is very important to begin conditioning your animal months prior to the trip. Horses are affected by high altitude just as humans are. A horse that is fit will have a much easier time adjusting, but don’t expect it to be able to perform as well as it does at home. Most State and National Forests require all hay to be weed free. Horses’ manure must also be weed free so begin feeding certified hay 3 days before you leave. Hydration is very important, it is a good idea to provide your horse with electrolytes prior to and during your trip.

There are several items that are necessary when riding in the high country. These include a first aid kit (including bute, banamine and electrolytes), farrier supplies or a hoof cast, saw, hat, gloves, raingear, warm jacket, matches, food and water. Have a plan of what to do in the case of an extreme emergency, including a plan for euthanasia. It is very important to know how to humanely put down an animal, where to do it, and the signs indicating that this is the only option. Talk to your veterinarian. Pay attention to the weakest animal’s breathing. Stop and let them recover in the safer, flatter areas. Animals will stress colic when pushed too hard. It is important not to let your horse drink water just before a hard climb, they will colic just like you would.

Choose a campsite in a valley below 9,000 feet, this will allow you and your animals to recover from the effects of high altitude. For more information on altitude illness, please refer to http://www.uptodate.com/contents/patient-information-high-altitude-illness-including-mountain-sickness?source=search_result&selectedTitle=2%7E16. Other things to remember in camp; do not tie to trees as horses will damage them, do not camp, build a fire, picket, hobble or graze horses within 100 feet of trails, rivers, creeks or lakes. Water horses before hobbling to prevent them from falling into a body of water. When picketing, use a forefoot to avoid an accident involving a hoof caught in the halter or a broken neck, be sure to train horses to picket at home, before leaving for the high country. All food should be stored in a bear resistant container or suspended at least 10 feet above the ground. Move food away from camp. Bury human waste 6 to 8 inches and pack out toilet paper and all trash. When breaking down camp, fill in all holes livestock may have dug and spread manure. Also, be aware that there is a 14 day limit in one campsite. Summer storms usually roll in between 12 and 3 and include lightning so be prepared. These are just a few tips on planning a successful trip with your horses into the high country. If you have any questions, please contact us at highcountryhorsecouncil@yahoo.com or contact the local forest service.

Written by Kelli Day and Rachael Baker