Pony Pack

Pony Pack title logo
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The Pony Express was a service that first started in April 1860. It took the mail and news from the United States’ east coast, all the way to the west coast in just eight days. Previously it could take over a month for news to reach from one side of the country to the other as there were no telephones yet and news had to be carried by wagon. One of the first riders was a man called Johnny Fry who set out from Missouri. It’s reported that his first mail pouch had forty-nine letters and three newspapers.

Anatomy of a horse hoof
Anatomy of a horse hoof

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The service worked by having 157 relay stations dotted along the country, all the way from Missouri to Sacramento, California which was 2000 miles away. Mail carriers used a breed of horse called mustangs to ride between these stations. Every time they reached a station they would change horse as the one they were riding would have been exhausted. Riders changed horses about six to eight times along their stretch of the route. They were so fast, it only took them about two minutes to swap horse, and they would gallop continuously, day and night and in all weathers to make sure the mail got through on time. Riders were required to weigh less than 56 kilograms and be under 18 years old to ensure they did not slow the horse down.

Pony Express riders had a dangerous job, not only because of the difficult terrain and harsh weather, but because a lot of the route passed through Native American homelands. Riders carried rifles to protect themselves (as seen in the drawing), but several riders were still wounded by arrows from Native Americans defending their territory against white invaders. Mail pouches were often sewn into the rider’s saddle to help make things easier.

One of the most famous Pony Express riders was Robert “Pony Bob” Haslam. One night in 1860, just a month after the Pony Express had started, he turned up at a relay station in Nevada, only to find the keeper had been killed and all the horses taken. On his tired horse, he had no choice but to continue on to the next station 40 miles away. There, he talked the keeper into coming with him. Pony Bob saved the keepers life as his station was attacked the very next night.

It was not unknown for a horse to turn up alone without its rider if they had fallen off along the way. Crowds of people would often gather at the stations to hear the latest news. The cost of sending a letter was worked out by weight – $5 per 28 grams – that’s £100 today! One of the most famous messages to be carried by the Pony Express was Abraham Lincoln’s first speech. Sadly, despite its popularity, the Pony Express shut down in 1861 when the telegraph system was finally completed. It had only run for a year and a half. H2O.

A horse
A horse

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Table describing the features of the breed
Description of breed
Colour Normally bay, brown, black or grey
Height Around 14.2 – 15.2hh
Conformation Narrow, hard feet
Slender and short body, yet strong
Sloping hindquarters with low-set tail
Flat shoulders
Well-defined withers
Narrow head with convex profile
Arched neck

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