Horses have a lighter touch and are more responsive to cues than camels.
This is because they are in general more reactive and sensitive.
Although camels can reach a high degree of training, they are not capable of
executing a sliding stop or cutting a cow out of the herd with the same speed,
agility, or stability that a horse has.
Horses are more sure-footed than camels. Although some people may dispute this,
there is no way that a smooth camel foot can have as much traction as a horse hoof,
especially on muddy or icy surfaces. However, a camel does have one trick in
precarious terrain -- it can drop to it's knees and crawl over the steep spots.
And the soft camel foot is more environmentally friendly -- it will leave hardly
a track, where the sharp horse hoof will cut up the trail (by the way, camel
droppings are also more innocuous and less offensive to "non-animal" people on the trail).
Horses have more impulsion than camels. They are more willing to move out.
Camels are by nature barn-sour and herd-sour. One of the biggest challenges in
camel training is in getting them to leave home or to leave the herd. There are
certain camels who, through training or personality, make better "lead" camels.
I often hear of people who cannot ride their camels away from home; they lead
the camel out and then ride towards home. I have found that "ground driving"
camels will make them much more willing to move ahead. Sometimes you just have
to put a lot of pressure on a camel to get them to leave herd or home until they
get used to the idea. Most camels, once they are off the home turf, will move
out more like horses do. Even a well-trained lead camel may need to be led out
of the yard before mounting. Camels tend to be more "mulish" or "donkey-like"
than horse-like in their responses. Of course, mule and donkey trainers will
tell you that longears act that way because they are smarter than horses!
It is easy to buy a well-trained horse. They are everywhere. However,
it's not so easy to find a camel with advanced training for sale – especially
if you want to trail ride and not just lead the camel around. So unless you are
willing and able to train the camel yourself (not a bad option, especially if
you are willing to learn and can employ the help of a local respected horse trainer),
or to send the camel to one of the few camel trainers in this country...
Horses can fit in any horse trailer (these are usually 6 1/2 to 7 or even 7 1/2 feet tall).
A big male camel will need a custom made or altered eight-foot high (or higher) trailer.
The tack for horses can be simple. You can ride a horse with an old $100 saddle,
or with no saddle at all. To ride a dromedary camel you need a well designed,
custom made camel saddle (the Australian types are the best). These saddles can be expensive,
as well as heavy and ungainly. However, you might choose to ride a bactrian camel.
Also, a simple bareback pad (with a roll behind the hump) can be designed for riding dromedaries.
I rode and trained my bull dromedary for a full year with nothing but a bareback pad,
and that included all-day desert rides.
If you have some training problems with your horse, there will be any number
of trainers nearby who are willing to help you. Finding a professional camel trainer is trickier.
If you are training a camel, you need to keep an open mind and be sensitive to the
camel's needs and responses. You must learn as you go along and be prepared to make
some big mistakes. Fortunately, most well treated camels are very forgiving.
If you have a health problem with your horse, there are many excellent equine
veterinarians to consult with. But if you have a health problem with your camel,
who you gonna call? Many camel owners team up with a willing and adventurous equine
veterinarian, and they learn together.
A horse who is abused and mistreated may get nervous and distrustful. However,
a camel who is abused can get mean and unpleasant to be around, if not downright dangerous.
Camels seem to take mistreatment more personally than horses do. However, a wild,
untrained and unhandled camel that has not been mistreated can usually tame down very nicely.
Riding camels can be complicated. When I ride around my neighborhood (an extensive
network of dirt roads leading to the trails) I have to plan my route based on where
horses are coralled along the way. Horses can react violently to camels, and I gradually
get new horses in the neighborhood used to the camels. In spite of my cautions,
three times I have had horses go through or jump over fences. Fortunately, none
had injuries and they were owned by friends or clients of mine. However, you have
to be extremely considerate and aware of the PR risks. Also, when I run into a
horse on the trail, I pull off and lay the camel down. I often need to call to
the horse rider not to come too close, as they naturally want to come up and investigate.
The horse may act fine, then spin and bolt. Of course, the camel sits quietly all
the while, looking down its eyelashes at the silly horse's antics.
Whether I ride a camel or a horse depends on where I am going. If I am headed
up to the Uinta mountains, with their steep, rocky trails and frequent streams,
I will take a horse. If I am going down to the deserts of southern Utah,
where the land is quiet and water is scarce, I will ride a camel.
If I am riding around the neighborhood or on local trails, I will trade off.
If I want to goof around at home with ground-work training or just playing with
the animals, I will often find more interest with a camel. If I am riding with
friends on horseback, unless it is with a small group of my friends who have
"camel-friendly" horses, I will choose a horse.
If you want to ride with horseback-riding friends, make sure they are prepared.
Start with very experienced riders at first. (Beware of riding with people who don't
know what they are in for. It can really strain a friendship)! Introduce the camel
gradually. The best way to get a horse accustomed to a camel is to temporarily
keep the horse on your property close (but not too close) to the camel.
Some horses react more strongly to camels than others. Interestingly, Arabian
horses are more accepting of camels than other breeds. I attribute it to genetic
memory. Most horses will be fully acclimated to the camel within three days.
Exposure to camels will also help horses to be more accepting of llamas.
Once a horse is used to camels, the lesson will never have to be repeated,
even years later. Riding horses and camels together can be fun -- I often ride
a camel with my husband who is on a horse.
Just like with horses, you can ride a camel long distances. And, like horses,
comfort of gait and travel varies between animals. Some camels are bouncier than
others; some have a lovely, smooth pace. When I am traveling long distances on a
camel, I like to travel faster than a walk; most camels can be trained to go along
in a nice easy jog, which they can hold for miles on end. Riding a good camel or
horse 20 or 30 miles in a day is no big deal; riding a bad camel or horse the same
distance or with a bad saddle can be miserable. I have taken inexperienced riders
on 25 mile camel rides and they have done very well.
As far as fencing is concerned, camels do tend to be harder on fences than
horses (especially if there is food on the other side). Camels are more like cattle
in this regard.
However, the fence does not need to be tall. I use a five-foot "no climb" 2" by 2"
mesh topped with a hot wire. The hot wire prevents the camels from leaning on the
fence and ruining it. I have known people to use even shorter four-foot fences.
However, keep in mind that if you make any money with your camel, you will need
a USDA permit. The USDA requires a six-foot fence, however, if you have a shorter
fence, you can apply for a variance.
Although I know many people keep horses and camels together, I am not comfortable
with this situation. Horses are capable of kicking so swiftly and powerfully, and
the camel may not have time to get out of the way. I prefer to keep horses and
camels in separate, adjoining enclosures. I have also known situations where camels
kept with smaller animals (sheep, goats, donkeys, llamas) injured or killed their
smaller buddies. Although this is rare, it can happen. I think, if they need to be
kept together, the best non-camel pal for a camel would be a hornless steer or cow.
Of course, you would not want to feed the camel the poor-quality forage that
cattle are capable of eating.
I am fascinated and enthralled by both horses and camels. I find their
differences to be interesting and challenging. Each has a very special appeal.
And then there is that other great animal, the animal who seems to be a little
of both – the mule. But that's another story.
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