Horses

This page is dedicated to the horses of the Pony Express. If you would like to have your horse featured, please send a photograph, name, breed, age, and any other information you would like to have posted. e-mail
Approximately 400 horses in total were used. Horses were selected for swiftness and endurance. On the east end of the run horses were primarily picked from calvary units. In California, W.W. Finney purchased 100 head of short coupled stock called "California Horses"' while A.B.Miller purchased another 200 native ponies in and around the Great Salt Lake Valley. The horses were changed at each relay station.

Horses were needed at every station along the Pony Express Trail. During his route of 80 to 100 miles, a rider changed horses 8 to 10 times. The horses traveled at a speed of about 10 miles per hour and at times they were galloped at speeds up to 25 miles per hour. These horses were purchased in Iowa, Missouri, California, and some western territories.

Varieties included: Morgans and thoroughbreds which were often used on the eastern end of the trail; pintos which were often used in the middle section; and mustangs which were often used on the western end of the trail. They could cost up to $200 each which was a fairly high price at that time.

The Plains horses were active, and while they grew smaller from generation to generation, they kept their essential strength and spirit. They were tough desert horses, made to carry a light rider, but to carry him almost endlessly, with very little worry about food or water. These, crossed with southern Thoroughbreds, were the horses of the Pony Express, who ran the rough, sandy, dangerous going of almost imperceptible trails, over the gopher holes and sage, outrunning guerrilla assaults from the Indians. (Source: Strong, Horses and Americans)

Here is a very good article "The Horses of the Pony Express" which appeared in Western Horseman's January-February 1942 issue.

Harper's Magazine
The Pony Express, as pictured in a contemporary
issue of Harper's Weekly Magazine.

A few of the names of the horses of the riders are known:

Johnny Fry rode Sylph on the first run of the Pony Express on April 3, 1860.

George Scoville had a horse named ? because of a white ? on his face.

William Campbell had a horse named Ragged Jim.


Endurance of horses

To average 10 mph a horse has to lope in Western terms or trot in English terms. To a horse this is the easiest gait to use when covering vast miles. Depending on the terrain the horse covered, dictated the distance between swing stations.

The physical limits of a horse depends on where they came from and were used. In the plains area (Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and parts of Wyoming) the horses used were of the Thoroughbred type. The other 4 States relied more or less on the Mustang horses that were living in those areas. The stamina of these animals were hardier than those on the Plains States.

The distance that a horse can travel at a gallop before dropping, depends on several variables. If its a hot or cool day. When he had water last. If the horse went out at a full gallop on flat terrain on an average day, he could probably travel maybe 5 to 8 miles Max if in good shape. Over the terrain the we ride in the Sierra's of California a horse may make 5 miles if it didn't break something first.

A good Express rider rode his horse at a lope and galloped his horse only to get out of harms way.

This information was kindly provided by Jim Eiland, Trail Captain, California Division, NPEA.