a few basics for pct riders
preparing for horse packing the Pacific Crest Trail.
There are a number of things riders need to know about before riding the PCT. Here's a collection of the basics to get you started.
- Leave No Trace - the Leave No Trace approach to horse packing is essential to keeping the PCT system healthy and accessible to all. The PCTA offers classes on this regularly. Read up on it and take it seriously. Make the commitment to make your entire trip guided by this policy.
- Test Rides - Before you start a long trip, you need to do a half a dozen small test trips. These are essential for discovering holes in your education, your horse's training and unexpected problems with your gear. Use exactly the gear you are going to take on your long trip - from the tent to the shoes to the saddle. Never start a long trip with new gear you haven't used regularly. Test rides should include overnights and multi-day trips.
- When stopped - When your horse is grazing, s/he should have hobbles and a bell. As all experienced packers know, this won't keep him/her from wandering off, but will help you catch them when they do (horses who get use to hobbles soon learn to canter in them). Hobbles should only be used when you are watching the horses. The bell is to catch your attention if they start to move off so you can get them back before they roam too far. Keep in mind, too, that they will likely follow any horse that passes by, so if other riders come through, you will need to catch them quickly. At night you will need to put your horse on a high-line with a bell attached close to the tree saver so that you will be woken by its ringing if the horse gets into trouble. Leave your horse enough lead rope to graze while you are up and about, but shorten the lead rope to about 18 inches for the night to keep the horse from getting tangled in it.
- Support is Good - Most equestrian PCT trecks involve the support of non-riders along the way. You will need someone with a truck and trailer to deliver feed at specific resupply points. You may need to arrange to rendezvous with a farrier regularly. There will be times when you need to get off the trail and wait out storms, dangerous conditions or wildfires. Having a dedicated person to pick you up is very useful in these instances. Not all towns where hikers re-supply are possible to take a horse into. You may want to arrange an occasional night of boarding your horses at a trusted stable along the way while you sleep in a real bed or just get busy organizing your re-supplies. Further, your rendezvous person needs to be well briefed on how to get to your rendezvous points, if they can drive a trailer to that location (and turn one around) and what to do when, inevitably, you are late for one of your planed meet-ups.
- Re-supplying Feed - Don't count on being able to buy feed along the trail. Most riders purchase the feed for their entire trip and either have someone meet them periodically along the trail to give them each new supply or store caches of supplies at strategic places along the way. Hikers usually have re-supplies mailed to them at specific towns along the way, but that is often not possible when talking about large amounts of horse feed. Caching food on public land is generally illegal, so you will need to find appropriate places such as ranger stations, barns, stores, garages, equestrian centers, etc. and make individual arrangements with each.
- Companions - Most riders don't do the PCT alone. Having someone else with you is safer and can solve a lot of logistical problems. If you don't have a full time partner for your trip, consider arranging for different people to join you at specific points along the way. You and a companion can ride a certain stretch, then be met by someone with truck and trailer who get on the companion horse and ride another stretch with you. The first companion then drives the truck and trailer home where it is picked up by your next companion who meets up with you further on.
- Horse Feed - Grazing is available and plentiful in some places along the PCT and non-existent or even illegal in others. Research this by checking with local land management agencies for regulations in each area. It's a good idea to carry multiple types of processed feed. Maybe feed your horse 1/3 alfalfa pellets, 1/3 Equine Senior and 1/3 cob with molasses. All feed needs to be certified weed-free and you have to be able to prove that to any ranger you meet. It usually works to carry an average of 5 pounds of feed per animal per day. The amount you actually feed on any given day depends on the quality of the grazing your horse gets (anywhere from 2 lbs to 9 lbs). You can usually carry about 30 lbs of feed in pommel and cantle bags. Feed horse twice per day from his nose bag while s/he is on the high-line (before morning graze, after evening graze). Then let the horse graze 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the evening (or until they loose interest and start to wander). Let your horse graze throughout the day when riding through good grazing areas. When you find a camp with good grazing and water, stay and extra day or two and let your horse graze as much as possible. At resupply stops, plan to give your horse an extra five pound feeding.
- Miles per day - The slower you go, the safer it is for you and your horse. Never ride as far as you can in a day. You need to allow time for at least 2 hours of grazing in the morning and evening, where grazing is possible. Grazing stops throughout the day are important too. Many people find they can do an average of 15-20 miles per day as long as they include layover or short days every few days as well. However, some of us choose to do fewer miles each day either out of necessity (for health reasons, for example) or because we want time to explore the areas around the trail as well as the trail itself.