Minimize Horse Impacts
The old Lakota was wise. He knew that man's heart away from nature becomes hard;
he knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans too.
Horses have been used for transportation across our country for centuries before we began thinking of our impacts on the environment. Now, as an accepted mode of transportation into the wild areas, horsemen are asked to minimize their impacts similarly to hikers. Since a horse's hoof can exert up to 1500 pounds per square inch through a hard metal shoe, the potential destruction from horses is huge. Horsemen that modify their activities to help protect heavily used areas demonstrate their concern for a sustainable resource.
To minimize your impact when riding horse and using pack stock, follow the general seven LNT principles, plus consider these horse-specific principles:
- Plan Ahead
- Educate yourself on the area you plan to visit. Scout the area before an extended trip and locate grazing areas. Talk with local land managers to find out about available feed, bear danger, high-use areas to avoid, and current restrictions.
- Choose appropriate grazing restraints to minimize impact. Loose grazing, hobbles, highlines, electric fence, and pickets all tend to have less impact than tying to trees.
- Repackage food to minimize waste and load on pack animals. And then take the minimum animals necessary for your trip.
- Lighten your load as much as possible to minimize the animals required.
- Take your most experienced, calmest animals. Train and practice backcountry activities with your animals at home so they are accustomed to the restraints, loads, and other techniques you'll be using.
- Getting lost causes undue damage to the land and risk for rescuers. Carry and use a map and take responsibility for knowing your route and staying on it.
- Durable Surfaces
- Water your horses away from the source by carrying water in a bucket. Or, if watering in a stream or lake, choose a spot with a low rocky bank or established ford. Avoid soft ground covered with vegetation.
- Stay in the center of the trail, single file, and avoid trailside vegetation areas. The 1500 pounds per square inch a horse can put on the land can quickly trample and destroy off-trail areas.
- Use trails designed for heavy use. Follow the regulations and avoid non-horse trails.
- Take rest breaks well off the trail, on dry grass, sand, or dirt which are durable.
- When traveling cross-country, each rider should pick his own route to disperse hoofprints, staying on durable surfaces.
- Avoid steep slopes and soft ground. Ride across slopes rather than straight up or down to minimize damage.
- In undeveloped areas, stay only one night at each site to lessen the trampling of one site which may cause an established site to be formed.
- Rather than traveling to and staying multiple nights at a destination campsite, consider camping in a different place along your route each day to disperse your campsite impact.
- Place your kitchen area in the most durable spot since it gets the most traffic. A thin sheet of plastic under your tent lets you place it on dirt rather than crushing soft, fluffy vegetation. By using a sleeping pad, there's no difference between dirt, sand, and grass for the sleeper but a big difference for the vegetation.
- Campfire Impact
- Keep social fires small and consider having them only occasionally rather than every day. Only have a fire if weather is safe, there is a plentiful wood supply, and you have time to prepare a good fire site.
- Use only down and dead wood that is smaller around than a wrist. Gather the wood away from camp rather than stripping the immediate area bare. Gathering wood at a restbreak on the trail and bringing to your well-used campsite will distribute the impact.
- Use a portable wood-burning stove rather than open campfire for cooking. Or, consider using liquid fuel stoves.
- Burn fires to ash rather than leaving half-burned logs.
- If no established fire ring exists, use a firepan to hold your fire.
- Dispose of Waste
- Pack out all trash and garbage. Do not burn or bury trash.
- Kick apart manure piles each day at camp and after any rest breaks on the trail. If you stayed in an established campsite, carry manure away from camp to disperse it.
- When breaking camp, check the area for pieces of leather, rope, and other odd bits that may have been dropped.
- Leave What You Find
- Use weedseed-free feed to prevent the spread of invasive plants. Start feeding your animals 3 or more days before entering the wilderness so their digestive systems are clear.
- Fill in pawed ground to help it regrow.
- Do not break off limbs, cut trees, build structures, or tie horses to trees. All these activities leave scars.
- When traveling cross-country, don't blaze your trail. If you mark your trail going in with temporary markers, be sure to retrieve your markers on the way out.
- Respect Wildlife
- Control your dog. Electronic collars work well on the trail.
- Securely store feed to prevent scavenging by hungry wildlife.
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors
- Use pack animals to remove trash left by others in high-use areas.
- If you encounter hikers that are not familiar with horse traffic, greet them and ask them to move off the downhill side of the trail and give them instruction as needed.
- A friendly horseman makes a lasting impression on hikers.
See Washington Backcountry Horsemen LNT recommendations.