The first teams of Pony Express riders amazed the nation by accomplishing their east and west bound deliveries within the projected 10 day schedule. The speed of the riders even had a role in swaying a divided California to stay with the union during the American Civil War. News of President Abraham Lincoln's inauguration address was delivered in record-setting time—a mere seven and one-half days.
On a typical run, Pony Express riders changed horses at "relay stations" located every 12-15 miles. At "home stations," spaced about every 75-100 miles, a fresh rider and mount would continue the run to the next relay station.
With speed however, came limits. Each express rider had a carrying capacity of about 10 pounds. The payload was limited to what could fit into the four pockets of the "mochila."
High demand for such limited capacity, combined with the monumental express of funding the system made Pony Express rates extremely high: initially $5.00 per half ounce, or $1,000 per ounce in 2002 dollars. Consequently, other than the military and the U.S. Government, only major newspapers and other well-capitalized businesses and individuals could afford the service.
The mochila, a leather apron that slipped over the rider's saddle, was the most important piece of his gear. It had four small, lockable pouches that securely held the mail as the horse galloped toward the next station.
The saddles used by Express riders were custom made to be lighter and more streamlined, allowing the mochila to be easily removed from one saddle and tossed over the horn and seat of the saddle on the next horse.
Saddles made by Israel Landis typically were lighter and more comfortable for both horse and rider.
Israel Landis, saddle maker 1840-1900, St. Joseph, Missouri
"Changing Horses at the Station" Artist, William Henry Jackson. Courtesy of the Howard R. Driggs Collection, Gerald R. Sherratt Library, Southern Utah University.