A Salt Lake man whose family rode with the Utah Centennial Wagon Train said Wednesday that organizers of the 556-mile trek pushed horses too hard in order to meet dignitaries at various spots along the way to Cedar City.
Craig Nyborg said some people took their wagons out of the caravan, which began in Logan on June 4, because long distances traveled every day in often 90-plus degree temperatures were too stressful on draft animals. The wagon train has reached Cedar City, the destination of the 26-day journey."I think they're pushing them too hard," Nyborg said Wednesday. "It doesn't get dark till 9 or 10, and sometimes they want them to be in town by 3 o'clock."
Wagon train organizers countered that they had taken great pains to make sure that animals on the trip were well cared for. Maura Carabello, Centennial Commission program director, said she was with the wagon train for all but three or four days of the journey. Carabello said the caravan had plenty of time to meet its schedule while at the same time allowing horses time to rest along the way.
She said teams rested three times per day for at least 30 minutes per stop and there was a one-hour lunch break in the middle of the day. She acknowledged wagon train organizers were worried for the first couple of days about meeting the caravan's busy schedule of dignitaries along the way, but a decision was made early into the event to tell the dignitaries "they can wait."
"Everything we've done is planned around the animals," she said.
Organizers said two horses died on the trip - one in Tremonton of colic and the other in Gunnison after it impaled itself on a fence post. Nyborg said three horses died as a result of the trip. He said the mate of the horse that died in Tre-monton died later the same day after the horse's owner took it home. He added that at least one large Clydesdale horse collapsed from heat exhaustion at one point during the trip, but the animal was bathed in cool water and recovered.
Cody Faerber, a Colorado State University veterinary student traveling with the wagon train, said Friday he was sure some people left the wagon train because the stress had been too much on their animals.
"Oh yeah, there's been quite a few," he said. "I think they didn't realize the extent of what they were getting into."
But Faerber said most problems he saw occurred early when the caravan was in northern Utah and temperatures were hotter. In the past two weeks, most of the remaining teams seem to have adjusted to the strain. Any animals showing signs of extreme stress were unhitched and taken into the next town in trucks.
Faerber added that organizers placed water-soaked gunny sacks on animals to cool them and splashed water on horses' heads and necks. Also, in northern Utah, some communities watered the roads in front of the wagon trains to reduce heat, but because the caravan was more on dirt roads and temperatures cooled down in southern Utah, road heat wasn't such an issue on the last leg of the journey.
Nyborg said his wife, Mitzi, and two daughters, Rachel and Dari-ana, were with the wagon train since Logan. Although his family had its concerns about the pace of the journey, Nyborg said his wife and daughters loved the experience and found it to be an event that taught them to share with each other and learn the pioneer lifestyle.
Nonetheless, Nyborg said his family was concerned about their horses - two draft animals and a saddle horse. By Wednesday, none of the family horses had experienced joint swellings on the asphalt highways they traveled and none had gotten sick, but Nyborg said family members were keeping a close watch on the animals. One man he knew of from the Dakotas took his horses out of the wagon train much earlier.
"It's my dad's team, and I can't take them back dead," Nyborg quoted the man as saying.