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The Fabulous 4-J Big Piney Horse Camp

If you want to stay connected to the outside world, don’t go to 4-J Horse Camp on the Big Piney River in Duke, Missouri. Cell service is frustrating on the best day, and WiFi is essentially unavailable. But if you want to have a fabulous time riding, eating, and meeting new friends, plan a trip as soon as possible!

This is probably my 9th or 10th time at the Big Piney. I believe my first trip was in 2009, right after I bought Kadeen. This is the third year my husband Alan has gone with me.

We spent a week at our as-yet unsold barndominium in Kansas before arriving a few days ago to camp. The last three days we have ridden about 23 miles. We visited the camp farrier to have both horses reset. We haven’t had Sadie for even a year yet. It is our opinion that she never wore shoes before coming to us. She’s not real fond of the process. The last three times (including the camp farrier) we have had to resort to “better living through chemistry”.  Nevertheless, she seems to be improving and hopefully, with time and repetition, she will not object so strenuously.

A camp farrier is not the only perk offered at 4-J. You can get your black tank emptied 2 or 3 times during the week. There are washers and dryers available. There is a trailer repairman that comes around one day during the ride. Hay and feed are available for purchase, as is firewood. We are getting decals designed and placed on our truck this week, thanks to the decal gal that is offering her services! Lastly, there is a photographer that has been coming for a long time. I have some wonderful photos from past years.

Organized rides

Typically, about 300 folks attend one or more of 4-J’s multiple rides throughout the year. There are 2 organized October rides, as well as rides in May, June, August, and September. Attendance is a little light this year, but I am happy that other things have remained the same. (With some additional COVID precautions, of course!) One of the aspects of this ride that I most enjoy is the food. The food is amazing and plentiful! We are fed three large meals a day. We eat, ride, eat some more, ride some more, and then eat dinner!

There is always an organized group ride that goes out every morning. There is a fast ride and a slow ride. It is a great way to learn the trails and meet new people. Alternatively, you can ride out on your own. We have a GPS and we ride by ourselves or with a few other folks we meet along the way…

The trails at the Big Piney are rocky and can be steep. There are numerous places to cross the Big Piney River. A favorite destination is Trout Cemetery. It is about an 11-12 mile ride. Along the way, we pass the Sink Hole, where a massive earth cave-in created a large depression in the ground. We frequently see deer, and we saw an armadillo this week!

Speaking of favorite destinations, don’t miss the boot tree, the bra tree, or the newly added COVID tree!

Organized activities

The first Sunday of every organized ride features the camp horse show. Kadeen and I really enjoy that, although there aren’t any classes for Arabians! There is a “gaited pleasure” and a “Quarter Horse pleasure” class. Often, Jay, the show announcer and camp commandant, teases me on the microphone about my “Foofoo” horse”! This year, we won the keyhole and barrel race. We actually got second in the “QH pleasure” class, behind a classic, beefy Quarter horse! In the past, we have done well in the Water Glass class, but not so good this year. I guess the gaited folks did one-up me on that…

Other camp activities include a band and dancing a couple of the nights, a used tack auction, and a new tack auction. Another night we will play bingo! We always meet new people and reconnect with “old friends”.

The first night there is a “mixer” and prizes are given for regular attendance. Alan and I won the prize for the farthest travelers. That was never the case for me when I lived in Kansas, but coming from Colorado is a different thing! Jay passes out belt buckles every year to folks that have attended 5 or 10 consecutive years, and then 15, 20, 25 and up. After ten years, you get credit for years you attend even if you miss a year. Some folks have been coming for 30 years! What does that tell you about the experience?

There is much, much more I could tell you about 4-J Big Piney, but I will let my photos and their website tell their own story. Suffice it to say that we always have a good time here. Even though we come from a further distance, we will still make a week at the Big Piney part of our annual trail-riding plans.

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