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Home Is Where My Horse Is
A couple cuts loose to become full-time trail-riding nomads
WRITTEN BY: Janine Wilder   [March 1, 2002]

Jim and Janine trail riding in the La Sal Mountains in Utah
Jim & Janine in Utah

We decided to make some big changes in our lives. My husband, Jim, and I concluded that it was time to fulfill our dreams of seeing this country from the back of our horses. We decided to combine our love for horseback riding with our passion for traveling and hit the road.

Traveling around the countryside, riding our horses on all the trails that we can find, is a dream come true. We have seen things, gone places, and had experiences that we used to only dream about.

Our lives have changed from the everyday routine to one big adventure. Being able to ride all year long, by seasonally moving to different parts of the country where the climate is suitable for riding, is a fantastic way to live. The more we travel, however, the more that we want to travel and ride. We simply can't get enough.

I can't remember who came up with the idea first, I just know it didn't take us long to discuss it. The timing was perfect since Jim was retired and our children were grown and out on their own. The next thing we knew, we were putting our house in North Carolina up for sale and started making arrangements for extended travel.

The next step was to try to figure out what would be the best combination of vehicle and trailer for our kind of adventure. We soon discovered that this would not be an easy or quick decision. There were so many things to be considered, other than picking out the best-looking rig.

It is very important to know that the motor, transmission, frame construction, gear ratio, breaking system and towing capacities are adequate to handle a loaded horse trailer on the long haul of a mountain range.

Safety, of course is the most important consideration in making these decisions. We asked lots of questions, called the manufactures and read all the literature that we could find. We needed to learn all we could in order to make an educated decision.

The living quarters had to accommodate two people comfortably for an extended period. We had decided to travel and ride for as long as we both enjoyed it. Being comfortable could be the key to a long and enjoyable life style. Our preferences for riding would take us to many primitive areas. Therefore, we needed a home that would allow us to be self sufficient for long periods.

Our options were fairly limited. A slide-in truck camper and bumper pull trailer were struck off the list right away. Although it would certainly get us into those remote trailheads, it would be just too confining for full-time living.

A more reasonable option would be a gooseneck trailer with living quarters and a pickup truck. Or a motorhome and trailer. Each has its pros and cons, so it just boils down to which would best suit our needs and new life style.

With the gooseneck and truck, the trailer would have to be long enough to give us adequate living quarters. Unfortunately, this could make it too long to get to some of those remote trailheads, which are down some long and narrow mountain roads, with little turn around space.

If you have ever backed up a rig for several miles because you couldn't get turned around, then you know that this is an important issue. You will also find that it doesn't take long to get tired of cleaning up all the dust that creeps inside your rig or picking up all the things that fall out of the cabinets on that dusty and bumpy road.

The one thing that is true of either choice is that you can have a substantial amount of money wrapped up in your unit. With this in mind, would you even want to drive it to every trailhead in which you were just wanting to day-ride? The alternative is to have a home base - somewhere safe and comfortable where you can leave your living quarters trailer or motorhome. Then, with a truck and small trailer, you can travel to different trailheads for day-riding.

Finding the solution

After spending a lot of time researching all of our possibilities, we decided on a Class A motor home, a pick-up truck, and a two-horse aluminum trailer with dressing room. This combination seemed to be the answer to our style of living. When we move from place to place, my husband drives the motor home and I drive the pickup with the trailer. We can keep in communication while in separate vehicles with the use of our Ham radios or CB's. When we are at our destination we can leave our home at its location and either ride from there or trailer to other trailheads for day-rides.

There were several factors that helped us in our decision to purchase the motorhome. First, motor homes are intended for long travel and comfort. And because of their configuration, they are designed to maximize your living quarters. Basement models have the capacity to carry everything we needed (and then some) and the heated compartments keeps the pipes from freezing, which is one less worry. Other considerations to keep in mind were the holding tanks, fresh water, and LPG capacities.

The most important of these for us is the water capacity. This could mean the difference of staying somewhere for a day or a week. Our motor home has a 100-gallon fresh water tank. We can also carry extra water in our trailer if it is needed. It is important to have enough water for you and your horses if you are "dry docked" somewhere that does not have water for the horses.

Traveling full-time is another dimension which has far different considerations than when traveling for only weeks and even months at a time. There are several amenities that we found that make life a little more like home. The motor home came equipped with two 6-volt deep cycle (golf cart) batteries, which are sufficient to run our television and lights. It also has a very efficient generator that will run all the appliances, air-conditioner, etc.

Because we primitive-camp a great deal, we added a couple of solar panels to help charge the batteries. Most days the solar panels alone will furnish enough power to run the TV, lights, and other small appliances. With the addition of an inverter, which transforms 12-volt DC power into 120-volt AC power, means that I never have to be without my computer.

When packing for our adventure, we had to decide on what to take and what to leave behind. The tendency, of course, is to over pack. Therefore, I had to ask myself if I really needed eight crystal water glasses. Then I would remember how important it is to keep within the weight limits, which is an important safety and liability factor.

Jim and Janine travel across the country with their horses and their motorhome
Jim & Jan's Motorhome

The Arrangements

Now that we have our new home ready, it was time to make arrangements for the non-fun part of traveling like: how to get our mail, how to pay our bills, and how to keep in touch with the family. There are several mail-based businesses and Travel/RV clubs that, for a fee, will forward your mail anywhere you specify. Most of these businesses also offer a message service in which family and friends can reach you via an 800 number that you can call to retrieve your messages. The post office will generally forward your mail; all you have to do is write, telling them where you want it sent.

Paying your bills can always be the done by the conventional mailing method or, with a computer and a program from your bank, your bills can be paid automatically. Keeping in touch is always easy with the use of a cellular phone, prepaid phone cards and by e-mail (if you have a computer). Our children have their own Web pages on the Internet, so we check it frequently to get current pictures of the grandchildren.

I have found a couple of ways of connecting to the Internet with my lap top computer. The one I use the most is with my cell phone. With the proper link between the computer modem and phone, I can usually make a connection. I can also connect via a pay phone. Most laundromats usually have a pay phone, and hooking up to the internet is much more interesting than waiting for the spin cycle light to come on the washing machine.

Hitting the Trails

With all the preliminaries out of the way, it was time to turn the new motorcoach into a home, load up the horses, and hit the road on the first chapter of our new lives. Traveling with horses has its own inherit problems. Our burden was lessened because our horses were veteran travelers. They think of the trailer as their barn, they are not picky about hay or change in feed, and they have no qualms about where they spend the night.

Thus far, this has been a very interesting and exciting way of life. We have been traveling full-time for almost three years, and before that we traveled part-time for over nine years, which has allowed us to ride in 49 states. This beautiful country has some of the most breathtaking views and awe-inspiring trails that are truly a trail rider's dream come true.

We have fulfilled some of our dreams by riding the Rockefeller carriage trails of Acadia National Park in Maine, which overlooks the ocean; Cape Canaveral National Seashore in Florida (if you are lucky, you can see the space shuttle on the launch pad; if you are luckier, you can avoid the nude sunbathers on the beach); and the Great Smoky Mountain in North Carolina.

There is nothing that can match the beautiful scenery of the Rockies, especially the Colorado Rockies and Glacier National Park in Montana. For a taste of the wild side, you can't beat the wildernesses of Washington and Idaho or the excitement of the sand dunes on the rocky Oregon coast.

For the unexpected thrill, we found Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio, Mammoth National Park in Kentucky, Cedar Lake Equestrian Trails (Ouachita National Forest) in Oklahoma, and Catalina State Park in Arizona. We won't ever forget the beautiful Canyon Lands of Utah or the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Cuyamaca Rancho State Park of southern California. I could go on and on about our wonderful riding experiences, but there isn't enough room in this small article to cover all the memorable places that we have been.

Ups and Downs

We are very fortunate to be able to travel around the country, but it is not without its pitfalls. One of the predictable things about traveling is that it is unpredictable. Although most of our misfortunes have been minor irritations, we did have a major catastrophe with my horse Max. One afternoon we found him in the pasture literally standing on three legs, with his left hind leg drawn tightly against his belly. We found that his hoof had a quarter-size crushed area right at the coronary band. To make a long story short, it took three vets, two wrong diagnoses, and several weeks to find out what was wrong with Max.

After learning that he would be out of commission, with a broken coffin bone, for six months to two years, we realized that we had to make some serious decisions. After a lot of thought we decided that, since we would have to buy another horse, we would buy a three-horse trailer and take Max with us. This was the most unexpected decision and expense that we had to face.

In contrast, the best experiences we have had are with the people we have met. So many wonderful folks have taken their time to introduce us to their trails, towns, and friends. They have shared their life experiences, their special riding areas, and their soaring spirits to help make our traveling adventure a part of their lives. Our new friends have touched our hearts and made our travels a memorable adventure in life.

Our advice to anyone interested in full-timing with their horses is to travel part-time for a while before you make the big step into full-timing. Since this is far from a traditional lifestyle, it helps to have a lot of adventure in your soul. Although there are a lot of people who are full-time RVers, there are very, very few people who are full-time RVers with horses. Therefore, you are traveling and living in uncharted territory. Just remember that every day can be a triumph and a challenge.

Jim & Janine, trail riding on their horses in Minnesota
Jim & Janine in Minnesota

Traveling with your horse is an extraordinary way to experience life. We have been in many exciting places, met a lot of interesting people, and learned something new every day. It really does give you a whole new outlook on life when you are living a dream.

Please Visit Jim & Janine Wilder's Website...
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This article was published on: October 4, 2002. Last updated on: October 4, 2002.