Written by: Cheryl Rhodes
Join millions of other modern day treasure hunters with tips on how to have fun geocaching on horseback.
With Lucky’s reins in my left hand and the GPS in my right, I’m riding on a well-maintained trail winding through cedar, fir and maple trees, marshlands and open fields, narrowing in on a cache named “We’re Not For Everyone,” hidden in Campbell Valley Park, in Langley, British Columbia.
I glance at the GPS and watch the metres countdown from 200 to 50. As I get closer to the coordinates, the GPS needle begins to swing north until it reaches 10 metres and points directly down a smaller path. There’s a lot of foliage, so I slide off Lucky and lead him down the path, quickly stopped by a low hanging branch. There’s no safe way to lead my horse around it. I turn Lucky around and lead him back to the main trail and pass his reins to my husband, Kerry, who is riding Whistler. I return down the path, duck under the branch, walk around a large stump, and find myself staring at the largest cache container I have ever seen – a camouflaged high school locker!
At first, I wonder how the hiders packed this thing into the woods, but then I have to figure out what to do about the combination lock guarding the secrets within. I try a couple of combinations using the numbers from the GPS coordinates before I realize the obvious: the lock is not actually holding the door in place. It takes a couple of good yanks to pull it open, and inside is a cap hanging on a hook, a small duffel bag, a couple of boxes, and the actual cache container, full of tradable items. I didn’t bring any trinkets to trade, so I barely give the items inside the locker a glance. I remove the log book, write down the date and my geocaching nickname “mermaidude,” put it back inside the locker, and close it up, ready for the next geocacher to find it.
We discovered geocaching while looking for ways to keep Kerry, who was recovering from an injury, entertained. I heard about a geocaching game using a GPS (global positioning system) to find containers holding trinkets and log books that are hidden by other players. I learned more about the game on the official geocaching website – www.geocaching.com – and participated in forums, where I chatted with other equestrians who combined geocaching and trail riding, sometimes referred to as “equicaching” on a “geohorse.” It sounded like a fun hobby, so I bought a GPS and we started hunting for hidden treasure. I still remember the thrill of finding our first cache, an orange waterproof match container hidden in a lamp post at the Pitt Meadows Canadian Tire parking lot called “Cache Money Mint.” We were hooked!
We searched for caches hidden near our farm’s coordinates on the website, and were surprised to discover several caches hidden in the trails alongside the Fraser River, a quick ride from our home. How many times had we ridden past benches, fallen logs and rocks never guessing they held secret containers? The caches had fun names assigned by the hider: “Cookies are my Specialty,” “Hawk Loop – Muddy Fraser,” “Mushrooms,” “Coyote Corner,” and “The Places You’ll Go!”
Part of the geocaching game involves hiding caches for other players to find. In honour of finding my first parking lot cache at Canadian Tire, I hid a cache in a lamp near the Fraser Downs racetrack and named it “Pace on By.” If geocachers time it right, they will see Standardbred racehorses on the track.
So, You Want to Play?
Besides a spirit of adventure, geocachers require a GPS unit. They can be purchased for around $100, and the price goes up from there depending on mapping features, camera and other options the geocacher wants.
For players with a smartphone, the geocaching app can be downloaded for $10. The app is great for spontaneous geocaching, thanks to a search feature that locates all nearby caches surrounding the player’s current location, but the accuracy is not as reliable as a GPS.
The GPS or phone will be the biggest cost of this new hobby, excluding horse and transportation costs. It’s exciting to find a hidden cache and log the success, but the real treasure is discovering a new adventure to share with your horse. Happy treasure hunting!
- Go to www.geocaching.com and sign up for a free account. The geocaching website has instructions and helpful hints to find caches, including how to use Google Earth to locate caches that are already hidden in parks, mountains and other areas accessible to horseback riders.
- Caches are hidden by other players who post a description, a hint, the difficulty of the terrain and how easy it is to find the cache. Most caches have ratings between one and three stars out of a possible five. Read the description and previous players’ logs to decide if it’s suitable to search on horseback.
- The accuracy of the GPS might be off by several metres. Look for signs that other geocachers have been in the area and obvious hiding spots.
- Most caches are hidden close to the ground beneath logs or inside stumps, so when geocaching on horseback, it almost always means dismounting and searching on foot, poking around trees, bushes and rocks. Occasionally, a cache is hanging from a tree branch or another place that can be reached in the saddle, but those are rarities. Most caches are hidden below waist level.
- When the cache is found, open the container, remove the log book and write down the date and geocaching nickname. Re-hide the cache exactly as it was found.
- Log the find on the geocaching website, either on the smartphone or later at home on a computer. If the cache isn’t found, leave a log entry anyway. It’s possible the cache has gone missing and the owner will need to check if there are several did-not-finds and replace it.
HANDY HINTS FOR TREASURE HUNTERS
On May 3, 2000, Dave Ulmer hid a bucket of trinkets near Portland, Oregon and emailed the coordinates to his Yahoo newsgroup who shared an interest in satellite systems. The game to find hidden caches quickly became popular, and, in September 2000, the official geocaching website – www.geocaching.com – was introduced. Today, there are more than five million geocachers worldwide.
- There are nearly 125,000 caches hidden in Canada and the Territories, many accessible by horseback.
- The geocaching website automatically keeps track of finds, viewable on each geocacher’s profile.
- Depending on the size of the container, the log book can be a small notebook or a tightly rolled piece of paper.
- Bring a pen. The cache might be too small to hold one or the one inside may have run out of ink.
- If you take a trinket from a cache, leave one in its place. It’s okay to leave a tradable item behind and not take one with you.
- Bad weather may affect the satellites and the GPS accuracy. It’s not so much fun hitting the trails to geocache on a rainy day anyway!
- It’s useful to ride with another geocacher who can hold your horse if a more thorough ground search is needed. Caches are sometimes in a spot the horse can’t access.
- People who are not geocachers are called “muggles.” Use stealth if muggles are in the area. Non-players who discover caches sometimes vandalize them.