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Comparing Horses with ATVs

A lot of people in Montana have horses, but there are also a fair number of four wheelers. While both offer convenient ways to get around in the mountains, every method of transport has its pros and cons. Here are just a few of the differences between these two options:


  • No bad attitude to worry about
  • Doesn’t eat when you’re not riding
  • High load-carrying capacity vs. the weight of the machine
  • Multiple passengers on one machine (UTV)
  • Can be carried in pickup truck bed; no trailer necessary
  • Injuries to rider are self-inflicted
  • Financing is readily available


  • Expensive (new machines run anywhere between $5000 and $25,000)
  • Limited access (you have to stay on designated routes in the National Forest and on BLM land, so backcountry adventure is out of the question)
  • Requires insurance and registration for on-road use
  • Repairs are costly
  • Noisy and damaging to certain vegetation
  • Too fast for dogs to accompany you

Horse Pros

  • Access to virtually all public land, including backcountry and wilderness areas
  • Quiet and less damaging to vegetation
  • No license tabs or registration sticker (brand inspection at purchase, though)
  • Camaraderie
  • Dogs can keep up
  • Purchase price is usually cheaper than ATV (care is not)

Horse Cons

  • Eats and drinks every day regardless of use; responsibility doesn’t end when you park it
  • Shoeing and vet expenses
  • Packhorse load is under 200 pounds per animal
  • Boarding fees or fencing for pasture
  • Trailer is necessary (unless you’ve got a sweet stock rack) and possibly a bigger towing rig
  • Injuries to rider are not always self-inflicted (horses think, but they don’t always think straight)

I’m not going to say one method is better than the other—there have been plenty of times where I wished I owned a side-by-side UTV. Usually it dawns on me around day number three of a horseback trip after putting away freeze-dried dinners, sleeping low to the ground, or fixing the portable electric fence (again). If I had a buggy, I could bring a generator, a biffy chair, and an honest-to-goodness grill into the hills. I could have steak for dinner!

Soon after, though, I realize something: in a UTV, I wouldn’t be in this part of the forest behind a “No Motorized Traffic” gate. I wouldn’t have the familiar saddle soreness that reminds me of the trail into this beautiful spot. I wouldn’t be able to recall the funny reaction from my gelding when I came strolling back into camp that first morning last season, bow in hand and greasy camo paint covering my face. He must’ve thought I was the creature from the black lagoon.

Horses make great hunting buddies!

For me, the enjoyment I get from having horses makes up for some of the things I leave back at the house. I’ve made the decision to own horses, care for them, and use them. So have the guys down the road, only they’ve chosen ATVs. Both have their place. Really, we’re all out enjoying the outdoors. That’s what counts.

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