If you’re yearning to explore new places aboard a good horse, you’re in luck. Below is a selection of guest ranches, trail rides and destinations that will allow you to appreciate the great outdoors alongside a solid equine companion. But before you head off to your next Western vacation, it’s a good idea to take stock of the essential items you’ll need to pack—and what’s best left at home.
Ryan T. Bell is an award-winning writer and photographer for print publications and other media, including Western Horseman, National Geographic and National Public Radio. He’s known for his stories gathered while backcountry riding. Bell shared a quick list of items he always brings, and a few he doesn’t.
ALLERGY MEDICATION. “You never know what you may be allergic to out there,” Bell says. “If you’re even remotely sensitive to a weed pollen or a tree pollen, it’s a good idea.”
MUCK BOOTS. Rather than wear a pair of nice riding boots suitable for the arena, Bell wears a well-fitted pair of rubber boots or muck boots on the trail. Knee-high rubber boots will make you waterproof from the knee down, which helps with walking through morning dew when you’re camping.
“The reality is you don’t know if you may end up having to hoof it a lot, and you just need to be really comfy,” Bell says. “A veteran outfitter I learned from would take his muck boots and tuck them into the ropes on his pack animal so they were always handy.”
SADDLEBAGS. Bell prefers to bring his own saddlebags because he knows the exact volume available for his gear.
“I’ve got a really nice nylon set. They’re nothing beautiful, they’re not leather,” Bell says. “They’re very hardy, good volume, good clasps. That way I can be sure I’ve got my stuff with me.”
PONCHO. Bell won’t travel without a good wool woven poncho. “It’s incredibly handy as a rain barrier, a blanket, a top layer, for the layer closest to the ground under your sleeping bag,” Bell says. “You can even use a poncho for blindfolding a horse should it be necessary.”
BELT. The journalist also brings an extra-long belt so that in a pinch, he can use it as a hobble or a halter.
CAMERA GEAR. Bell says he carries his main camera slung around his body while he rides, with extra camera equipment in his saddlebag on the off side.
CHAPS. Good riding chaps are helpful as an extra layer against the elements.
SMALLER ITEMS. The horseman always brings long underwear, a flashlight, lighter, sunglasses, a book and bear spray on his backcountry trips. He even includes a musical instrument.
“My harmonica just lives in the bag—it’s always in there,” Bell adds.
ITEMS BELL LEAVES AT HOME: Spurs, extraneous saddlebags, a cheap slicker and judgment about anyone’s gear. “Leave your judgment behind,” Bell says. “Horse people can be judgey about gear. But remember, you’re a guest on your host’s horses, and there’s no need to look down your nose at the saddle provided for you. Insulate yourself by wearing clothes that will be comfortable in that saddle.”