Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Lucky's Trekking Tips - Muzzle Blasts January 2024

Packing Your Horse: Now that you have your halter, bridle, and saddle, what goes on the horse? To carry my gear, I use hand sewn saddle bags made by my good friend Jim Branson. I do believe we traded for them. Remember, you cannot overload your horse so try to keep it to 20-25% of the horse’s weight, including your weight.

In my bags are lots of leather straps, a sewing kit, personal items, pipe tobacco, copper pot and cup and about 2-3 days of food. When using a pack horse, this will sustain you if you get separated or lose a pack animal. If doing a weekend trek without a pack animal, this is more than enough food. It’s the same things I have covered in other articles. Oatmeal, dried fruit and nuts, some kind of dried vegetables, and raw meat, unless I will be hunting. On the saddle are two canteens for water, my gun and picket hobbles with rope and pin.

On the cantle is my Metis Coat, wool poncho, oilcloth ground tarp, oilcloth poncho and one wool blanket. In the winter I will change out my short saddle blanket and use a full-size wool blanket on top of the wool base pad. This gives me two wool blankets for sleeping. This is about the maximum I can carry since Bubbles is only about 1100 pounds. If you have a bigger horse, you can get away with more. The longer the trip the more you will need to condition your horse and then you can get away with more weight.

When loading your gear nothing is more important than balance. That’s why I have two canteens on the pommel, to balance out the weight. Everything must be equal, as best as you can. When tying things down on the cantle getting them tight and compressed is necessary. When you must move faster than a walk you don’t want gear flying everywhere and off your rig.

Only one time have I improperly loaded everything and had my saddle slide. Eventually I found myself on the ground looking up at Bubbles’ belly. Once you do that, I can GUARANTEE you will never load an unbalanced load again! That “lesson” was in January, in a blizzard. Let me tell you, re-saddling and loading your gear in snow coming that fast is miserable and embarrassing.

Once in camp I unload my gear, picket Bubbles, and then set up camp. I cannot stress enough that setting up camp and placement of your gear should be the same every single time. When living by fire light, I don’t carry candles, you need to know where everything is in the dark, especially if you must pack up and leave before morning. When my saddle is on the ground, I pull the saddle oilcloth over it to protect it from the elements and to store things under it.

Key items should be close and somewhat protected. On our Ashley’s Return trek, we did have about 12 horses stampede through camp. We were able to protect ourselves and important gear while the rest was scattered about with some of it damaged. Around horses, this WILL happen.

The pictures show both sides of my horse loaded, and me departing on the winter ride where you can see my load is simply not going to make it.

I sure hope these horse trekking articles are igniting a spark in some of you to get mounted. For fur trade it is the way they all traveled and to truly portray a trapper between 1810 and 1840 you need to be mounted. Feel free to contact me at with questions and I’ll see you on the trail.

Written by Gerry "Lucky" Messmer. Reprinted with permission from the author.