The Pony Express …A fun video on the Pony Express and Bonanza… Enjoy
Exciting isn’t it? I bet they took off like a blister at a full run…for show. But I guarantee you, they didn’t keep that pace of a full run as seen in pictures, film, and likely books. It was fifteen miles to the next relay station and a horse is only good for barely two miles at a full run. Even the Belmont– the longest race of the Triple Crown is only a mile and a half long . But, at a nice hand gallop (medium speed), a conditioned horse can go for fifteen miles.
My point here is …if our hero hears that the heroine had been taken hostage by the villain in the town’s saloon and our hero bolts from his ranch on his trusty stallion Speedy (that has been his friend on lonely night, spots bad guys before he sees them, carries him everywhere) our hero can not race into town if it’s more than two miles away. If our hero cares anything for his animal, he won’t ride like he may drive a car (as horses sometimes are in books and in Hollywood). What he will do is ride like the pony express rider and go at a gallop and never at a run.
But, let’s just say he does run Speedy into town or should I say toward town. Speedy would try to please the hero but then would collapse and likely die after trying to run past the two miles. This is called ‘running a horse into the ground.” Quite literally. Nothing heroic here. Same thing after fifteen miles at a gallop which explains why the Pony Express relay stations were fifteen miles far apart.
Another issue….conditioning. Is our horse just out of pasture or in condition? Thought:Could you run the Boston Marathon? I can’t run down my driveway much less a mile or a block.
This brings up the next faux pas….As any runner knows, once you come to the finish line you DO NOT stop. You slow down and walk about until your heart rate slows So, this race into town to the saloon, sliding to a dramatic halt, vaulting from the saddle, throwing the reins around a hitching post, and racing into the saloon does not work. This is like driving a car again. A car can just stop; a horse can’t. It likely will kill him via the same heart attack as it could a runner.
But the heroine is about to be raped! The hero does not have time to walk Speedy down. Suggestions…toss the reins to the wind and let Speedy wander the street, or better yet, have a local kid, local bum, passerby yell, “Got ’em, Hero.” and this person takes care of Speedy while Hero takes care of the villan. But don’t tie Speedy to the hitching post and just leave him. For those writing in Regencys or non Westerns etc, you may have the butler or a groom ready to take Speedy to the barn/stable. It delights me to see a writer not forget to care for their horses. But to dismount, race away, and leave the horse simply parked out front usually in winter or on a cold night makes me think bad fuzzies,bad fuzzies.
Another thing…If the hero does race into town, ties horse to hitching post that has a watering trough for the horse to drink, races into the saloon, saves the heroine and he then walks out with the heroine in his arms to return to the ranch, he’ll find Speedy dead or extremely ill.Again, back to the marathon runner who walks his heart down to normal. He also doesn’t drink anything especially cold for a while. This is too much shock to one hot body. Same for the horse.
Such a scene really sent me over a wall when I read where the hero ran (not galloped) his horse into town, reins flying, horse lathered, slid to a stop at a hitching post with a watering trough, and bolted into the saloon to save the heroine…NOOOOO! Don’t do this to a horse. alive or in fiction.
Please! After working at least a thousand hours with horses, I know (and everyone who works with horses knows) you NEVER let a hot horse drink until cool…which is why this is called ‘cooling down.” (Nice statement for a hero to say I might add “Stoddard, see that Speedy is cooled down,” Rhett said as he raced up the steps.)
So NEVER run a horse a long distance. If in a hurry, just gallop. NEVER just stop…have some one there to take over the care of this horse. And NEVER -EVER have a watering trough, pond, bucket of water or whatever available to a hot, lathered horse to drink from.
They had someone at Pony Express relay stations to take care of the exhausted horse and so can you. Horse lovers everywhere will send you warm fuzzies if you do.