Travelling with one or more horses can be a daunting experience that many horse owners’ are curious how to do and make it fun. A fellow Equestrian Adventuress shares with us how she and her partner created a life of travelling with her horses full time! They live in their trailer and go horse riding all across the USA.
Author: Sandra Kelly
Jessica Isbrecht is an adventuress from New Jersey, USA whom began travelling full time with her horses in June 2018. We sat down with Jessica to hear about her life on the road full time and how she made this dream a reality.
Question: How would you describe your “job?”
“I’m a modern-day horse nomad, I travel with my horse full-time and bring my home with me everywhere we go. I’ve always been a bit of an adventure-seeker. I’m drawn to the mountains and wide-open spaces of western North America. I’m on an adventure that I hope will never end: traveling and exploring nature on horseback.
I’ve camped and ridden throughout New England, the Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, and Southwest. My trip will continue indefinitely. We may settle down one day if this lifestyle is no longer fun, but I hope that never happens. My plan for 2019 is to travel north from Arizona, exploring the canyonlands of southern Utah, the Black Hills of South Dakota, the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming, the forests of Oregon, and the Sierra Nevada mountains of California.”
Q: Making such a big change in one’s life is never easy, but usually, people say it was worth it. Can you share your motivation and how it all began?
“I’m joined in this adventure with my partner, Byron. We met in 2012 just before my mother was diagnosed with Lymphoma. He supported me through her hospitalization and failed treatments. Our bond grew deeper after her passing in 2013. He and I made a commitment to live life to the fullest after seeing my mother’s life cut short. We traveled extensively, pursuing our passion for rock climbing. We eventually came up with the idea of traveling full-time in a mobile home. However, taking my horse with me was a must. I began researching to see if this might be possible. Soon, I discovered that horse-friendly campgrounds, either privately owned or government managed, are very common around the United States. I compiled lists of facilities and cross-referenced that with rock climbing destinations. Finally, I plotted our course so that we’d ride and climb our way around the country.”
Q: Today, there are many creative options for developing ways to make an income while traveling. How is it possible for you to choose this lifestyle and freedom?
“We are able to live this lifestyle because Byron works remotely for a software company. He’s able to work full-time as long as we have cellular service with a strong data connection. We each have entrepreneurial pursuits as well. He builds digital guidebooks for rock climbing areas and I created a record keeping and management app for Organic farmers. I also offer business planning and consulting services to startup farmers. These types of work only require a phone and the internet, providing us with the flexibility to travel on our own schedule.
We live in a 28 foot travel trailer outfitted with all the comforts of home. We have a separate trailer for the horses. Most folks we see at horse camps have an all-in-one unit; a horse trailer with living quarters. We prefer two seperate trailers because it offers more flexibility. For instance, we can have our home set up and connected to power, water supply, and sewer lines at a campground, then load the horses and take off on a side trip any time we like. Typically, we like to “base camp” at a facility with full hookups for a month or more at a time.
Managing the Expenses
We’ve kept our expenses lower by having just one truck and two trailers. However, it does require making two trips to move camps. When it’s time to move we haul our camper to the destination and park it. Then, we return and pick up the horses. We keep a tent and camping gear with the horse trailer so that we can take our time getting to the next base camp. This approach takes the stress out of traveling with the horses. It also allows us to explore the more remote areas. We are able to access camps tucked back in the woods with our truck and two-horse trailer that wouldn’t otherwise be possible with a big rig.”
Q: When people visit places around the world many of them say how wonderful it would be to live there full time or be able to spend each season in a place that they love. Living where others vacation! You made that dream come true. Did you meet others doing the same on your journey?
“Traveling and camping with horses is fairly common in the US. We’ve met many folks who take riding vacations with their horses. Usually the trip is a week or two long in the summer but there are others who spend four to six months at a time. Many of these are retirees who bring their horses to Arizona or Florida for the winter. They are known as “snowbirds”, migrating south annually to escape the cold. There is a very small community of full-timers traveling with horses. At 36 years old, we are by far the youngest of them and receive a bit of good natured ribbing about our honorary senior citizen status.”
Q: How did you prepare the horses for this life on the road?
“We began our trip with one horse. Mackenzie is a fourteen year old Cleveland Bay and Thoroughbred mare. I wasn’t sure how she would adjust to this lifestyle. It was always a possibility that we’d need to call it quits if she had a hard time. With that in mind, I tried to expose her to as much as possible before leaving home. She got a little bit of camping experience prior to embarking on our travels when we competed in endurance and competitive trail rides. She was exposed to all types of sights and sounds at home and on local trails; cars, tractors, gun shots, livestock, tents, and more.
I think this helped her adapt to new environments quickly. The only time she spooked was in a campground in Alabama when four covered wagons pulled by teams of mules rolled through making a racket. I also worked with her to make sure that she would stand tied to fences, hitching rails, the trailer, etc. Tying well is extremely important, not only for safety in general but also because some campgrounds require horses to be tied to hitching rails or in standing stalls overnight.
Mackenzie lived on the road with us for seven months as our only horse. I rode alone or with folks we met at campgrounds. Sometimes Byron would hike or bicycle along with us. Eventually, he warmed to the idea of having a horse of his own to ride. I began looking for a beginner-friendly trail horse for him while staying in Arizona. I found a lovely eight-year-old Tennessee Walking Horse mare named River. Mackenzie was initially very jealous and protective of me around this new horse but now they have bonded and our little herd is a cohesive unit.”
Q: How are the horses taken care of?
“The places that we camp run the gamut from facilities with full RV hookups, large covered stalls, riding arenas and round pens, to dry camping in the wilderness on public land, or pitching a tent in a friend’s backyard where we built our own temporary pen on their lawn. We don’t let anything stop us from visiting a place we want to go. We are self sufficient and carry everything we need. I always make sure to carry drinking water for ourselves and the horses. I carry extra gasoline for the truck as well as spare tires for both the truck and trailer.
Containment for the horses also varies from place to place. Corrals are common but not always available. Highlines or picket lines, either permanent or temporary, are also common. I carry electric fence supplies with a solar powered energizer so that I can create a temporary paddock when needed. I can make the paddock small or large depending on the area. This can allow the horses to roam, graze, and have a bit of freedom while still keeping them safe. Additionally, I carry tarps that can be strung up between trees to create temporary shelter from sun or rain.
The Basics Are Relatively Simple to Provide
I was initially concerned about finding feed, veterinary, and farrier services while traveling. Luckily, all three have been easily dealt with. Sourcing feed while on the road has been relatively simple. There is a huge network of feed suppliers around the country. I’m able to find locations on our route through internet searches. I find it easiest to use brands that are commonly supplied through the large retailers.
My horses are on a forage based diet consisting of grass hay, beet pulp and alfalfa. They eat a wet mash of beet pulp and alfalfa pellets twice a day with a few supplements added in. They also have free choice hay in a slow-feed net. The horses love their wet mash and I love that it is a great way to ensure they are consistently consuming water. On travel days, I make up a bit extra and offer the soupy mix to them in the trailer at every stop. This keeps them hydrated and their hind gut loaded with fiber, thus preventing dehydration and impaction colic.
Vets Are Used to Servicing Travelers
Equines are required to have a current Coggins Certificate and be examined by a veterinarian prior to crossing state lines. A Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI) is valid between the origin and destination states for 30 days from issuance. It’s common for a horse camp to have a relationship with a local veterinarian so it is very easy to acquire the necessary paperwork for travel. Horses move all over the country for events so vets are used to servicing travelers. They are generally very accommodating, so much so that I’ve trailered to a clinic and had the horse examined in the parking lot in order to get a health certificate.
Farriers are also easily accessible. In our case, our horses have always been barefoot so I decided to learn how to trim myself. I use hoof boots instead of shoes for protection on rocky trails. This allows me a little bit more freedom and no need to schedule farrier services while moving frequently.”
Q: How do you find the trails that you ride?
“I use a variety of resources to find trails and horse-friendly campgrounds. The U.S. Forest Service is an excellent place to start. You can search each park for horse riding and camping activities. The Backcountry Horsemen of America is an association that has local chapters in most states. You can learn a great deal about an area by visiting the local chapter’s website or reaching out to its President. Additionally, websites like trailmeister.com and horsemotel.com are very helpful in finding places to ride and camp. There are also numerous Facebook groups dedicated to trail riding and horse camping, just search these keywords in the Groups module and you’ll find dozens.”
Q: Where have you two spent your first year on the road?
“We are approaching our one year anniversary of living this lifestyle. In that year we’ve driven at least 5,000 miles around the US. We began in New Jersey in June 2018. We spent the Summer exploring New England from our home base, a horse campground in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. From there, we also took a few short trips to ride in Maine, Vermont and New York. In the Fall, we packed up and headed southwest to our Winter destination in Arizona.
We spent the Winter months at a horse camp in Oracle, Arizona where we had miles and miles of high desert mountains to ride. The weather was colder than expected for much of the Winter so we decided to head further south to warm up a bit in March. During that time, we had a wonderful experience riding in the historic Tombstone, Arizona area. In April, we moved to Utah and spent six weeks exploring the canyon-lands around Zion National Park, Kanab, and Moab. We’ve just arrived in Custer, South Dakota where we will ride for a few weeks before moving on to Wyoming and Montana. We plan to loop back south and spend the Winter in Southern California.”
Q: Do you have any favorite locations to ride at?
“We really enjoyed exploring the southwest US. We have ridden over 600 miles of trails in Arizona and Utah. The terrain was wonderfully varied. We rode sandy, flat trails through huge saguaro cactus. Then, we climbed thousands of feet up rugged snow-capped mountains and were rewarded with incredible views that went on for miles. We loped along rolling grasslands, through herds of free-ranging cattle, surrounded by mountains.
Our favorite rides were in the slot canyons of southern Utah. A slot canyon is a very narrow canyon with tall walls. These rides were absolutely spectacular. The canyons are striped with red, pink, white, and grey sandstone. They are incredibly beautiful. It’s a surreal experience to ride between walls that keep getting closer and closer together while rising higher and higher above your head. We rode through some that were so narrow you could touch both walls. I expected the horses to be nervous the first time we went into a slot canyon but they didn’t seem to mind. Once, we followed a slot all the way to its end and had to back out about 20 feet before it was wide enough to turn around!”
Q: Did you have any other surprises or interesting experiences along the way?
“Another time, I was cantering along the base of a canyon and a washed out ditch appeared out of nowhere. My mare and I had a split second disagreement about which way to turn to avoid it. Instead of slamming on the brakes and sending me flying, she decided to jump down the three foot bank. We have schooled cross-country a few times in the past but I am by no means an avid jumper. I certainly had no intention of taking a leap this size in a treeless endurance saddle and long stirrups! Luckily, instinct kicked in and I did my best to stay balanced as we sailed over the bank. After pulling up, taking a deep breath, and settling my nerves, we continued our ride at a nice relaxed walk like nothing had happened.”
That is the Life of an Equestrian Adventuress!
“This summer we’ll ride the high mountain ranges in and around the Rockies. We’re very excited to explore the pine forests and alpine meadows of these higher elevations. We just got our first taste of a western mountain ride in South Dakota. We rode to the summit of Black Elk Peak, formerly known as Harney Peak. Our route climbed over 3,500 feet to the peak at 7,244 feet above sea level. The trail was very steep in sections. The horses had to step or leap up stone and wood retaining barriers while navigating tight switchbacks. Snow melt and recent rains made the ground very wet. The trail itself was an active stream at times. Mud and wet slabs of granite kept us focused on our footing.
Although the day started out sunny and warm, a thunderstorm rolled in as we were nearing the peak. The horses remained calm as rain pelted us and thunder crashed. Luckily, the storm was short lived, passing just as we reached the summit. The horses rested at a hitching rail while we climbed to the top of a beautiful stone lookout tower that was historically used for spotting forest fires. At the top, we were rewarded with panoramic views of the entire Black Elk Wilderness and Custer State Park. The skies opened up again on our way down, drenching us and making the already challenging trail downright treacherous at times. It took us six hours to complete the fifteen mile loop. We were chilled to the bone by the end but happy to have made it up this impressive mountain safely.”
Q: Do you have any final words to your fellow Equestrian Adventuresses?
“Overall, caring for the horses has been simple and not much different than at home. My initial worries were completely unfounded. That’s the thing; people are often held back by fear of the unknown. I had so many concerns when we were in the planning stages. It felt overwhelming. I’ve since discovered that with experience all those worries disappear. Life is very simple now. We work, eat, play, and sleep just like we did in our “normal” life before.
However, now we get to do those things in new and interesting places. When we get bored we move on. We are collecting experiences, not things. There is so much to see and do in the US. It is enough to fill a lifetime and what better way to experience it than on horseback. I encourage anyone interested in this lifestyle to muster the courage to just try it. You can always revert to your old lifestyle if this doesn’t suit you but you may fall in love with traveling, as we have, and never go back.”
Find out more about horse riding in the USA, Canada and many more by browsing our North America section. In case you don’t want to trailer your horses across the USA or want to see other countries, find inspiration in our free catalog with horse riding vacations in the US and worldwide.