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Horses - Endurance Riding And Famous Rides

( Originally Published 1940 )

AFTER A man or woman has become a strong rider with a firm seat and knows all the basic essentials described in this book, there comes a sense of high physical fitness and, beyond that, a self-reliance and eagerness to try oneself out in endurance riding. Such riding holds its own deep fascination and the urge grows' stronger and stronger.

Cavalrymen, on ordinary marches, generally, cover about twenty-five to thirty miles a day, alternating the walk and trot, though such riders have often covered far greater distances satisfactorily on forced marches and such. Only within the last year the 7th Cavalry, stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas, ended the maneuvers by riding sixty miles on its last day back to its home post, and at its head rode a fifty-eight-year-old colonel who made the ride with the ease of a youngster.

One must first get into strong physical condition by a great deal of outdoor life and riding, and must also have his horse in the same high condition, and ruggedly hardened. This is done by starting out at around fifteen or twenty miles a day for a few days and then gradually increasing the distances as rider and horse become more and more accustomed to the work. Haste in this hardening brings only regrets, to both horse and rider.

Cowboys on our western cattle ranges ride, almost daily, any-where from twenty miles to sixty or seventy miles a day, riding mainly at a walk alternating with the lope (slow gallop). Cowboys do very little trotting except for very short distances. But we must remember that where the cavalryman has but his one mount for his day's ride, the cowboy generally has a "string" of several saddle animals, which he alternates in using for his day's work on the range.

Last year the Regular Cavalry stationed at Fort Bliss held an officers' test ride. The distance was 150 miles and some ten young cavalry officers participated. The winner covered the 150 miles in twenty hours and fifteen minutes, that making an hourly average of seven miles and a little over. This was over rugged, broken western country, with much sand most of the way. The time consumed on this ride included the short, necessary halts during the ride. The healthy young West Pointer who won the ride came in as fresh as at the start, ready to continue. Each rider had but one horse for the entire ride. And all the riders finished except one, whose horse be-came lame. Our older cavalry officers who have had long years of experience in riding our western country, have stated the firm belief that, in emergencies, our cavalry can cover fifty miles during each twenty-four hours, for from three to five days at a time; that a single march not exceeding a hundred miles can be accomplished in from twenty-four to thirty hours. This riding means riding of assembled men (troops) and not single individuals, who have often made longer rides in somewhat better time.

Captain Fountain, 4th Cavalry, with a half troop of some thirty cavalrymen, rode eighty-four miles in eight hours, on an emergency ride during our Indian days, in Wyoming, where few or no roads existed, and instantly went into action.

During the Boer War in South Africa, a squadron (400 riders) made a ride of eighty-five miles in twelve hours over rough country and arrived ready for battle. The test of a good ride is not altogether in its finish and the willingness of rider and horse, but whether or not the troops (or individual rider and his mount) are fit for instant further action when the ride has been finished. The new rider should bear this in mind.

On the rides mentioned, the horse carried its rider and its full packed saddle, averaging on each horse about 250 pounds. This is, of course, the usual way in cavalry service.

In the ride to rescue Major Thornburgh of our cavalry, and his command, in the old West, in the Indian days, at a place known ever since as "Thornburgh's Rat Hole," cavalrymen rode a hundred and seventy miles in less than twenty-four hours.

Captain Henry M. Lawton of our cavalry (afterwards General Lawton), rode during the Indian days from the Red Cloud Indian Agency in Nebraska, to Sidney in the same state, a hundred and twenty-five miles in twenty-six hours, carrying important despatches. Bad roads or none at all. Rough western country.

Stuart's Chambersburg Raid, during the Civil War, a command of over 1800 cavalrymen and some artillery, made an average rate of march of eighty miles in twenty-seven hours.

During the Franco-Prussian War, a squadron of Dragoons of the Guard (about 400 riders), rode a hundred miles in two days, then fought immediately in the great battle of Mars-la-Tour.

During the early stages of the World War, French and German cavalry squadrons of several hundred riders often recorded rides of sixty to seventy miles a day for two or three days, often in bad weather.

Perhaps no more exciting and dramatic rides or riders ever existed in the world than our own marvelous Pony Express service. These riders rode alone, across the wildest country, in all weathers, at furious rates of speed. This during Indian days when each rider's life depended on nerve, health, skill in conserving his own and his horse's strength. In expertness with weapons of defense; and in being able to find one's way day or night, through heat or blizzards, across swollen rivers and over or through the Rockies and across arid plains.

These young riders averaged around a hundred and twenty-five pounds in weight, but were built of steel thongs of muscle. Their saddles were specially made for durability and lightness. Their horses were all hand-picked for speed and endurance and intelligence. Royal Riders of the World, indeed! The mails must go through! The Pony Express stations lay from twelve to fifteen or twenty miles apart, where fresh horses were held in waiting for the on-coming rider, who was allowed two minutes to change horses and mail-bags and be on his rushing way.

On June 8, 1860, Jim Moore, one famous rider of the Pony Line, was at Midway Station, half-way between the Missouri River and Denver, when westbound despatches arrived to be carried on. He rode continuously the one hundred and forty miles to old Julesburg, the end of his division; met there the eastbound rider with important messages and, taking them from him, he rode back. to his starting point with only ten minutes delay, because the rider who was to have made the ride had been killed by Indians only the day before. He did not even stop to eat.. He completed the ride through hostile Indian country, despite hunger and fatigue, making the entire round trip of two hundred and eighty miles over rugged country in fourteen hours and forty-six minutes.

Theodore Rand, another young Pony rider, had a route from Box Elder to Julesburg, a hundred-and-ten-mile route each way. He always rode at night. He averaged ten miles an hour, regardless, and rode for the Pony Express during its entire life. At first he used but four horses, but due to his dashing speed and continued furious riding, his horses were increased to twice that, a fresh one for every fifteen or twenty miles. Whenever, as now and then happened, he reached a station only to find his relief rider away or killed by Indians, he would ride on to the next station. The mail must go through on time! There were many riders such as Rand. He is simply a type.

Jack Keetley had the route from St. Joseph to Seneca, and made one of the most remarkable rides during the Pony Express' life. He rode from Rock Creek to St. Joseph, then back to Rock Creek and on to Seneca, then from there back again to Rock Creek. Three hundred and forty miles, all told, without rest—one continuous ride. He traveled for thirty-one hours steadily, all at swift gallop, and averaged eleven miles an hour all the way. He changed to fresh horses every fifteen or twenty miles, at the relay stations along the way.

Wild Bill Hickok was a station attendant and often rode Pony Express when the proper rider was killed by Indians or otherwise not ready; and Hickok made himself famous for endurance and nerve and those qualities that endured during his whole life. In the saddle he was simply tireless, of wrought steel from head to foot. He once rode two hundred and twenty miles in a little short of twenty hours.

Two of the outstanding, Pony Express riders were "Pony Bob Hallam" and Buffalo Bill. Haslam's greatest ride came about in this way: On this trip he stopped to change horses at Reed's Station on the Carson River in Nevada, found no horses there because they had all been stolen by the hostile Indians. Haslam therefore had to ride on on his tired horse, until he reached the next station fifteen miles away (Buckland's Ranch). He had already ridden seventy-five miles. The new rider was sick, so Haslam rode on again, with only ten minutes delay. Thirty-five more miles to the station known as the Sink of the Carson. Changing horses, he went on at a gallop another thirty-seven miles across alkali wastes—reached the Cold Springs station there. Another swift change of mounts and he was off again at flying speed. Another thirty miles. Then to Smith's Creek station, where he was finally relieved. He had ridden a hundred and eighty miles without stopping except to change horses. There he slept nine hours and started back with the return mail. At Cold Springs station he found the attendants killed by Indians and the horses gone. Haslam rode on, darkness came, Indians were every-where. Wolves howled. He arrived at the Sandy Springs station, changed horses and rode on to the Sink of the Carson station, found a lot of badly frightened attendants who had just fought off an Indian attack. Haslam would not delay the mail, and raced on for the next station, alone, grim. He reached his final station safe and sound after the marvelous trip. Resting only an hour and a half, he was again in the saddle, heading for Friday's Station, over his back trail. There he eventually rested, after having ridden, continuously, three hundred and eighty miles during which he had had hardly more than eleven hours of lay-off.

On Buffalo Bill's famous ride in the Pony Express, permanent honor must be laid for all time. The writer knew him well and has never known a handsomer or more typical American-a true knight of the plains.

Cody had an unusually dangerous route. It ran between Red Buttes and Three Crossings, in Wyoming. The latter station was on the Sweetwater River, a stream that followed the rocky bed of its course through- a great canyon where ambush was easy from a thou-sand crags. The river had to be crossed three times within sixty yards, whether the water was low or rushing from a storm. Often Cody had to swim his horse, and in all weathers. Hostile Indians were everywhere. Also, desperadoes rode those stretches. Cody was then only in his teens, as were many of the riders.

He averaged fifteen miles an hour on his route, changing mounts at the relay stations as usual. Cody's immediate chief, for awhile, was the wild and famous "Jack" Slade of the Overland, who gave young Cody his first riding job on the Pony Express. Slade assigned him the dangerous run of seventy-six miles between Red Buttes and Three Crossings, as a test. Cody was very young and boyish then. But his famous ride won him the West's admiration, and it came about this way, to stand forever in the annals of riding:

One day he reached Three Crossings, found the relief rider lying killed by Indians. Cody took his place at once and galloped on. Rock Ridge, eighty-five miles away, was his next goal. There he instantly returned with the eastbound mail on his saddle, reaching Red Buttes safe and without delay—three hundred and twenty-two miles without rest or food. A record ride, and during which the young rider was shot at and chased by savage Indians!

And so the new rider can see what a part is played by hardening up oneself and horse before attempting endurance rides, and can compare his own performances with those that have gone before; and with those rides which, every day, are being taken by cavalry the world over and by cowboys out on our western cattle ranges.

There is far more in riding than merely selecting a strong, gentle horse, saddling up, mounting and riding about at easy gaits. The real "tang'' of the saddle comes later on, when, with buoyant, lithe physical fitness and a grand horse between one's legs and the bit champing like music, rider and horse gallop across the open, up-hill and down, and try out endurance rides until every nerve tingles with pride of accomplishment and the heart throbs with prideful joy—if the whole endurance ride be not overdone and both rider and horse on their last legs.

The famous rides mentioned in this chapter are merely given as remarkable, outstanding accomplishments of horses and men. And it may be added that many a woman has done almost as much, with a hardihood and strength beyond belief. Calamity Jane and Belle Starr are two to be mentioned, tireless in the saddle.

Today, both men and women ride over five-barred "posts and rails" in the East, and across the wide stretches of mesquite-covered cattle ranges of the West there are riders of both sexes who fairly live in the saddle every day, spurred heels clinking, bit-chains jingling, eyes aglow with courage and health, on horses that prance with delight every mile.

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