For years, people all over the world have explored the backcountry on horseback. In Canada, you can go in search of remote valleys and alpine lakes, an alternative to venturing out on a quad, dirt bike or hiking on foot. A horse pack trip appeals to nature-loving individuals who appreciate the rugged surroundings of the natural environment, and this is how Bed and Bale’s CEO Chris Sutton likes to spend his free time.
Chris has a background in leisure operations as he is the owner and CEO of the global adventure, leisure and recreation consultancy agency, Select Contracts. When not working, Chris can be found exploring the backcountry of British Columbia either on horseback in the spring, summer and fall months and then on the back of a snowmobile in the winter season. Chris stumbled upon the Bed and Bale app, using it to plot out his journeys and list his ranch as a place to stay. He was singing the app’s praises to yet another person when he ended up telling a mutual friend of Virginia Smith, the app’s creator, all about this great app. Chris and Virginia were subsequently introduced, and Chris came on board with the business.
We sat down with Chris to talk about his passion for horses, pack trips and discovering gold mines….
What is involved in a pack trip?
A pack trip is when you ride a horse on a multi-day excursion with a pack horse on a lead rope behind you packed with all of your gear (camping supplies, food etc.). If you are going on a multi-day trip, you can have multiple horses behind you with all the equipment you need, packing roughly 150 pounds on each horse attached to a special packing saddle. You aim to ride for about four to six hours each day; this gives you enough daylight to set up camp and allow the horses to graze for food each day.
What is it that appeals to you from a Pack Trip?
I love to be in the middle of the BC backcountry, exploring places few have been before. I often take my two teenage daughters with me; we’ll either trek into the valleys or find a trail and climb a mountain somewhere, but what I love to do most is find old gold mines. In the early 1900s, although people accessed gold mines on foot, the gold was taken out on horseback, which means there is essentially a horse trail from every single mine in BC. They are, of course, disused and overgrown, but you can still see the old route that had the horses carrying gold in and out every single day for years; it is incredible when you find one, especially high up in the alpine. When I find one, I’ll tie the horses up and go exploring on foot. I have discovered mines with tracks intact, some with the original mine cars inside that still move despite not being used since 1920; it is amazing!
When do you usually go on Pack Trips?
I tend to go out in summer and early fall as I like only to take one pack horse and pack light (colder weather needs more gear, therefore more pack horses). I usually go on trips starting in June once the snow has disappeared up in the mountains, all the way through until early October before it gets too cold. You can sometimes stay in backcountry cabins, which is particularly good when it’s cold out, but those in the best conditions are likely to be busy, so it really depends on how remote you want to be.
What does a typical pack trip journey look like?
You pack up your horse trailer with horses and gear and drive out to a trailhead. Here you will gear up the horses, including packing the packhorse(s), and then off you go. As mentioned before, you will typically ride four to six hours a day, and sometimes you have to do more depending on weather, but any more than six hours isn’t ideal for the horses. You ride to where you want to set up camp (making sure there is a water source and a feed source for the horses at or near the camp – an alpine meadow is ideal), and then you let the horses graze for as long as possible; that’s why you try not to do too much riding in the day. Everyone has different strategies when it comes to managing the horses at night. My method is to let the horses graze until about 10 pm and then tie them to trees, and I wake up at around 5 am and let the horses continue feeding. Once I’ve cooked breakfast, I take down camp and get all our gear ready again. When I’m prepared to leave, I’ll bring the horses back in, re-pack them and then ride for another four to six hours and repeat.
Do you have specific pack horses?
Yes, you can train a horse to be a pack horse. I’ve got one who’s fantastic, and he preempts everything; he is watching my horse all the time so knows when to speed up, slow down or turn. Inexperienced horses won’t know that, so it is more effort to follow behind correctly. Another thing you have to think about is when you’re walking on single-track trails, and there are trees on either side; similar to being on a bike, the horses have to be cautious as they have two big pack boxes out on their sides. So the experienced pack horses will know that they’ve got the extra twelve inches on both sides of them, and they’ve learnt to take a wide berth around the trees. In contrast, inexperienced horses won’t know and will walk into the trees with the boxes on their side, which will often scare them, so there’s much training required to get them there.
How easy is it to get into Pack Trips?
Like many other horse riding specialties, it does have quite a lot of start-up costs. Firstly, you need to own the horses, which means you need to keep them all year round, either at your property or pay somewhere to board them, then obviously the hay, the vet bills, the horseshoe cost, the trailer to transport them, plus all the pack equipment, etc. So no, it’s not the easiest thing to get into, but if you can, it’s such an incredible way to see the BC backcountry, or anywhere around the world, to be honest! Plus there is all the training I mentioned before, which takes time.
How has the Bed and Bale app helped you plan out your Pack Trips?
I came across the Bed and Bale app because of my pack trips, plus I live on a ranch that offers horse boarding, so when I first found it, I was so excited as there is no other app like it. On some trips, I will need to drive 12 to 15 hours north, and instead of doing it in one run, which is challenging for the horses to be in the trailer for that long, I can plan my journey with the app. Knowing where there are horse-friendly places and getting in touch with people in advance to book a field and a place to stay has made travelling with my horses so much easier. It’s also great having a securely fenced area to put the horses; you can drive for six hours, let the horses eat overnight, then keep going the next day – it’s been incredibly helpful. Of course, the emergency aspect on the app is excellent peace of mind, and I’ve also found that meeting people from all over BC and beyond have been very generous with their advice on where the best horse trails are in the region. We’re building a community of equine sharing, and that makes me excited!
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