Tag Archives: Thru-Hiking

Pack horses and basket hitches: a how to

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I was warned before we set off that the majority of long distance journeys by horse fail due to problems with the pack horse. Certainly it’s true that this is an aspect of horsemanship that is rarely explored and mastered, at least in the UK, and I found  relatively little information about it readily accessible. So here is a brief explainer for anyone who might be interested.

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Thru-riding the Colorado Trail: Preparation and kit

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Our journey along the Colorado required a lot of preparation, not least in ensuring we had all the kit we needed to travel through the backcountry safely. I’ve ridden since I was a little girl, and spent all my weekends competing as a teenager. But travelling long distance, and using packhorses, was a whole new arena for me and required a lot of advance study.

An Australian friend of mine, Tim Cope – who rode 6000 miles across the Eurasian steppes for his bestselling book On The Trail of Genghis Khan – was kind enough to spend a few days with me, running through the equipment and knots he found necessary during his three years on the road. He also introduced me to some of his friends in the area – the Baird family, of Bogong Horseback Adventures, and the mountain man and stunt rider Ken Connley – who taught me to tie box- and diamond hitches for the pack saddle.

CuChullaine O’Reilly of the Long Riders’ Guild and Megan Lewis, who recently completed a round-the-world ride, were also extremely helpful, answering questions by email and over the phone.

Getting the right kit together was important: weight was a huge consideration. Over such rugged terrain it was important to keep as much weight off the horses’ backs as possible –  and carrying ‘dead weight’ in the form of bags/boxes is much more difficult to manage compared to the ‘live weight’ of humans, which will balance itself (and can easily jump off in a crisis!).

After the fold, find a full kit list of what we packed – plus a few notes about what worked and what we had trouble with. Price too was a big factor – I made a lot of judgement calls about what was safe to scrimp on, and what would be worth investing in.

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Horseback along the Colorado Trail

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This summer, my partner Richard and I spent six weeks riding 500 miles through the Rocky Mountains along the Colorado Trail.

It’s a fabulous route through a very dramatic backcountry landscape, taking in eight mountain ranges, four designated ‘wilderness’ areas, and gaining (and losing) around 89,354 feet over its length.

Our journey was an amazing adventure – a wild, lifechanging summer in the forest, during which we crossed mountain passes and high mesas, camped in wildflower meadows and bathed in freshwater lakes – and we had a lot of interest from other horsey people that we met along the way. For those interested in organising a similar expedition, I’ll post to this site in the coming days some information about how we planned it, the equipment we used and a few lessons about ultra-long-distance riding that we learnt the hard way.

We travelled unsupported, with three amazing quarter horses I hired from an enormous equestrian venture called Sombrero Ranches. To do so was remarkably simple – I just had to arrange to visit their ranch near Boulder, CO, a few days in advance to pick them out, and to find suitable road transport for them to the trailhead near Littleton, south Denver. After that, we were on our own – carrying all necessary equipment with us in our saddlebags and on the pack horse.

The horses – two paint geldings and an Appaloosa mare – came branded with ID numbers, but with no names, so our first challenge was to select them some suitable ‘trail names’: after some back-and-forth we settled on Pepper (for the little salt-and-pepper Appaloosa), Pinto and Numero (for the two paints). They made a beautiful little herd, and did us proud, taking the most hairy situations in their stride.

As they were unknown quantities at the start, we decided to travel at a fairly leisurely pace until we got acquainted with each other (and our new equipment). Potentially – if one was using one’s own (fit, trail-savvy) horses, and had road support supplying equipment and feed – the distance might be achieved in as little as 4 weeks, but for us the journey is far more important than the destination.

Before departure we made an interactive map of the full route, from Denver to Durango (near the border with New Mexico), on CalTopo, which can be viewed here. A flat image of a map created by the amazing Colorado Trail Foundation can be found after the fold. Continue reading

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