I was talking with a customer on the phone and we were discussing how to feed and contain your trail horses and pack mules in camp. I started talking about how I would picket my dominant horse and hobble the rest of the group to allow them to free graze for a while. Then then I would put them all back on the highline. There was a short silence and then he asked, "Well, when does the dominant horse eat?"
"When he is on the picket line, " I said.
"How do you do that?" he said. "Leave his lead rope real long?"
"No, " I said. "He doesn't have a lead rope on. He's on a picket rope."
We went a few more rounds like this until I realized that he and I had very different images of what a horse picket line was. Once we got that cleared up and got our lingo straight, we were able to have a fruitful conversation.
I know for a fact he is not the only horseman out there using this terminology and I thought this confusion could be a good thing to talk about here, so that no matter what you call things, you know what your options are for feeding your horses and mules in the backcountry. Here are some definitions:
- Horse Highline: a length of rope strung between two trees as high up as I can get it from which (in my case, anyway) hang In-Line Swivels to which I attach each horse's (or mule's) lead rope. The animals can then stand comfortably next to each other or move around in circles without getting tangled up. If I am able to keep an eye on them, I can even let them have enough lead rope to lie down or roll. Horses are typically much more comfortable on a highline than tied to a tree or a hitching rail.
- Horse Picket Line: some people refer to a horse highline as horse picket line. Truly what they probably have in mind is a rope strung between two trees at about 5 feet off the ground to which they would tie horses on either side. Really, a horse picket line is a rope hitching rail.
- Picketing your horse: when I talk about picketing my horse, I am referring to pounding a picket pin or picket stake into the ground with about 30 feet of rope that attaches to a single-leg picket hobble on my horse's front leg. He can then graze in a circle around the picket pin.
Hopefully this will help make things clearer and you can find the system of feeding or containment that will work best for you in your terrain. Some additional notes on each one...
- I use my horse highline mainly for containment, although I can still feed my horses with feedbags on a highline or string a hay bag from an In-Line Swivel if I brought hay and was so inclined.
- A horse picket line is used almost strictly for containment.
- I picket my dominant horse and hobble the rest to graze them and then put them on a highline to contain them. But picketing your horse can be a viable option for containment if, for instance, you are camping where there are no trees. Just remember when you picket your horse to clear the area of rocks or anything the rope could potentially snag on and to move the picket frequently to limit damage to the area.
I could say a lot more on each one of these (and probably will!), but for now I just wanted to address any confusion folks might have.