Horses in the desert

The plot of a Wagon Train episode I watched today is that the guy has to ride three days out into the desert to find some lost wagons and bring them to rendezvous at another place with the train. If he doesn’t find them, it is another three days back.
He has a small and a large canteen on is saddle. How much does a horse drink in a day when he is carrying a guy around in the desert?

The average horse will intake 5 to 10 gallons of fresh water per day. Carrying a load in a dry, hot desert, I could imagine that could double. For that matter, the human wouldn’t last 6 days with a canteen, maybe not even two days. The U.S. Army Survival Manual says you need at least 2 liters a day in cold weather.

But did the horse have a name?

No, but at least there ain’t no one for to give you no pain.

Theme song for the thread (no, not that one).

Why do you hate America?


The answer depends on numerous factors relating to the desert environment. To enumerate:

  1. The flora and fauna nearby.

  2. Geological formations in the area that may have an effect on both the availability of water and the navigability of the terrain.

  3. Miscellaneous other factors.

The first category will primarily involve two distinct elements: plants and birds. Both of them play a role.

Certain plants signal the availability of water below the surface; others actually contain water within their stalks or roots; still others can be poisonous and should be avoided entirely.

The presence of birds may also indicate water. But they may also startle, distract, or otherwise have a negative impact on the performance of the horse. It really depends on the bird. Small birds flying above quietly are unlikely to cause problems, but larger, noisier birds closer to the ground may alarm the horse. And any increase in the horse’s heart rate will mean an increase in the amount of water necessary to keep it alive.

The second category includes glacial landforms such as dunes, ridges, and mountains; and soil conditions, ranging from arid sand devoid of water to rich soil which may in fact cover groundwater; but, for the most part, this category is primarily concerned with rocks.

The shape, type, and amount of coverage of various rocks on the surface of the desert absolutely has an effect upon the performance of the horse - which, again, means the required level of hydration may be either lessened or heightened depending on the type of rocks in the area.

The third category, miscellaneous other factors, includes any other aspects of the desert environment which may play a role in the hydration level of the horse. For brevity’s sake, this category can also be referred to as “things.”

This is the first time ever that I’ve found this sentence appropriate.

Nicely done. :wink:


No, wait. Dan was a donkey.

An excellent post by Lamoral, but I’d like add a few points he didn’t get to.

The next most important thing is, of course, sand. The desert is mainly sand, but the specific characteristics of the sand have a great impact on how arduous the journey is for the horse. Hard, close packed sand is easier to walk on than loose fluffy sand.

Then we have the issue of terrain. If the journey is crossing hills, it will obviously be harder than if the whole trip were flat.

Finally, we have rings. I don’t what the hell they’re doing in the desert.

The answer is, of course, “Hollywood”. Right up there with the observation that folks on TV never have to use the toilet, they don’t often stop to eat or drink either. Nor do their horses need to eat, drink, or have saddles removed and get proper grooming to avoid sores, etc. (Plus the horses gallop for ages without having to stop and shed tons of sweat and pee like a racehorse…) And I guess someone else takes care of shovelling out the stable for the sheriff and the deputy…

Don’t you ever wonder about those shows where the stowaway or hostage or tied up prisoner never has to use the toilet? (How long can you go without a pee?)

The desert has a LOT of water in it, usually. At least, the American Southwest deserts did (Mojave, Sonora and Great Basin). Wagon train trails tended to follow known locations of water (springs, streams, underground rivers, etc.). A rider with a good knowledge of the local geography, attempting to find lost wagons would probably make use of the water in the area to keep the horse hydrated (to say nothing of himself).

Errr, is “glacial” the word you wanted to use here?

An example on this is the reason the Oregon Trail crossed South Pass vs the less mountainous route to the south that would have crossed the Red Desert.

Anyone who has driven I80 will realize how flat that is, but the lack of water blocked that route and people didn’t cross a major mountain pass without reason, which was water.

Las Vegas was founded around the spring, and all of the forts along the Mojave Road were set up to protect water sources.

Sorry, it was late, things were real, and we were sharing the gift of gab between ourselves.

Before or after you went down Ventura Highway and saw alligator lizards in the air, in the air?

There are some beautiful waterfalls in the desert; Tahquitz Falls and Darwin Falls for example.

The premise of the episode is that the usual watering places have gone dry, and their only hope is to make it to Big Fucking Springs, where the rest of the wagon train awaits the stragglers.
Filmed in Southern California, there are plants that look like small Joshua trees. I don’t know if you would drink more water while cutting and digging than you would recover from the plants.
I think the best bet for 13 horses and eight people would be to abandon two of the three wagons (one is filled with stuff to start a hardware store, and the owner doesn’t want to leave it) load all the water barrels and three children onto the empty third, double team the horses and switch them out so they work less, and high tail it for BFS. Once there, they can rest, water and feed the horses and return for the other wagons with as much water as they can carry.

Another factor is temperature, which can affect a horse’s ability to ride in desert conditions. If there is more than a certain amount of heat in the air, it will reach a condition known as “hot”, which makes walking more strenuous for the equine.