Camel Training Index   Camels vs. Horses   Halter Training

Camel wings
Camels can travel many days without food or water, this can be a very important factor. They are quieter and gentler than horses and seem smarter about getting themselves out of a precarious situation and can carry more weight.
Horses have a lighter touch and are more responsive to cues than camels. This is because they are in general more reactive and sensitive than camels. Horses are also more willing to move out and have better agility.



Camels vs. Horses

People often ask me how camels compare to horses. They want to know who is easier to train, or what camels' personalities are like, or why more horse people don't ride camels.

In many ways, camels make better pets than horses (although there are, of course, individual variations). Camels, if well treated, are more inquisitive, affectionate, and attention-seeking. However, they are a little more "emotional" than horses and less consistent in their reactions. In other words, they are less predictable than horses. They also seem to need the company of other members of their own species more than horses. Certainly there are many "only camels" around, but they just seem a little happier when with other camels.

Many people who have camels own them just because they like them, or because they are interested in exotic animals, and they are not really into training. Training large animals like camels can be a very daunting task. Many "horse people" are comfortable training large animals, and, given a chance, horse people generally can do very well handling camels. Why don't more horse people ride camels? I think part of the reason is that horse people are often unwilling to try another breed than the one they are used to, let alone another species. How many quarter horse owners are unwilling to ride an Arabian? How many Arab riders will resist trying a Tennessee walker, even though they have heard how nice the ride is?

I think that culture is also a factor. In Australia, where camels were used successfully to settle the waterless outback, camels are still use extensively for trail riding, in spite of the presence of the ubiquitous horse. Conversely, people in the U.S. don't think of riding camels just because they are not exposed to them, and there is no camel knowledge and training culture to be handed down to successive generations. My longstanding attraction to camels originated from an intense lifelong interest in traveling the arid deserts of the American southwest. Only after I started buying camels (in spite of misguided advice that camels were "mean and nasty") did I come to realize what truly wonderful animals they are.

Which is better to ride, a horse or a camel? Here are the pros and cons of camel and horse riding as I see it:


Camel pros (horse cons)

Camels can travel many days without food or water. In the kind of terrain I like to ride in, this is a very important factor. When riding a horse for more than half a day, you always have to be aware of water sources.

Camels are quieter and gentler than horses. Some people who are afraid of horses will be comfortable with camels. Situations that could panic a horse will scarcely cause any concern for a camel. If a horse gets really spooked, it could bolt and run off -- a dangerous situation. Camels will rarely act in such an insensible manner. However, camels will sometimes buck, for no other reason than sheer exuberance. Hang on!

Camels seem smarter than horses about getting themselves out of a precarious situation. If a horse gets tangled up in a rope, it may struggle violently and get rope burns (or worse). A tangled up camel will, after briefly testing the bonds, sit quietly and figure out what to do next. I once got trapped in deep quicksand while riding a camel. Instead of struggling and getting in deeper like a horse would do, she sat quietly for a moment while analyzing the situation, then rolled over on her side in order to neatly extricate her legs and get out.

Camels can carry more weight than horses. Also, a well-designed camel saddle has more room to carry whatever extra gear you are packing than a horse saddle does. Camels may also have more endurance, although of course training level is important.

Riding a camel is quiet and peaceful (that is, once the camel is well trained enough that it no longer grumbles along the way). Camel's slipper-like feet make hardly any noise. Without the clip-clop of hooves, you can hear the wind sighing in the brush, the rustle of autumn leaves, a coyote howl in the distance on a moonlight ride.

Camels do not need to be shod. The cost of shoeing horses can really add up! Furthermore, camels don't usually colic like horses do, although they occasionally bloat.

You can make money with a well-trained camel. Not so easy to do with a horse! A camel can command as much as $100-$400 per hour, or $500-$2000 per day. Although these jobs may not come along very often, the money will go a long way towards offsetting feed and purchase costs.

There is a certain pride in riding a well-trained camel. Although I am always proud to ride a good horse, riding a good camel down the trail is something else altogether. Just be prepared to take time to talk to and educate interested people along the way.

Camels' minds seem to be more complicated and interesting than horses'. Of course, this can be a disadvantage as well!


Horse pros (camel cons):

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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Special thanks go out to Charmian Wright, D.V.M. and all of the other good folk that have contributed articles for helping all of us in keeping our camels healthier and happier.