One hundred and fifty-nine years later, Kaelynn Clark will ride a portion of the 1,966 mile Pony Express Trail on Saturday, following in the footsteps of her great-great uncle, and pony express rider Dan Thomas.
Clark 18, of Rexburg, will be among 750 riders to participate in the Pony Express Re-Ride, organized annually by the National Pony Express Association. The pony express began in 1860 and ended 18 months later in 1861.
This is Clark’s third time riding the trail where to keep with tradition, dressing the part is required along with swearing an oath to not cuss, drink or fight.
She’ll carry a bag filled with actual U.S. mail, wear a brown hat, a long-sleeved red shirt, yellow scarf, brown vest, blue jeans and boots. She’ll use a brown saddle pad and carry a small bible like her great-great uncle and other riders did in days gone by.
Stories written by her aunt Lisa Lacey of Rock Springs, Wyo., about some of her great-great uncle’s experiences are written in the Bible she’ll carry, including a story about when he was chased by Indians.
“Knowing the history of his stories in the Bible makes me feel like I get to carry him with me as I ride,” she said. “I think it’s pretty cool everyone carries bibles. I shove my bible into my boot so I’ll always have it with me. It makes me feel safe.”
She’ll carry a 50-pound mochila, a leather pack that fits over a horse’s saddle horn and seat. Mail will fill two pockets on each side and be passed from rider to rider. The re-ride started at 3 p.m. (Central time) Monday with the first rider leaving St Joseph, Mo. Each rider gallops two miles, and they ride rain or shine, night and day. The final rider will arrive in Sacramento, Calif., 10 days later, according to nationalponyexpress.org.
While her great-great uncle’s route was from Sacramento to Salt Lake. Clark will begin her ride in Farson, Wyo., and head west. Riders can sign up for multiple two-mile rides and this year Clark will ride two, two-mile stretches, all in Sweet Water, Wyo. The Pony Express National Historic Trail retraces the actual route as closely as possible through Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California, according to nationalponyexpress.org.
“Part of the ride is on a road and other parts are on dirt trails, they try to follow existing trails,” she said.
During the ride, Clark will continually monitor her horse, a 5-year-old mustang named Spartan she adopted and trained through the Bureau of Land Management and 4-H gentling program when he was a colt. Beforehand, she gives Spartan electrolytes and plenty of feed and water.
“When I’m out there I’m thinking about the safety of my horse. There are some hairy and dangerous areas. I’m always encouraging him and listening to him to see if we need to slow down to a trot,” she said. “We’ve never put shoes on him because he has nice, hard feet, and being a mustang, he can go forever without getting very sweaty. I give out before he does.”
Clark rode along with Lacey, called shadowing, first before going solo. She gets lots of support from her parents and siblings.
“This year my mom will go with me because my dad and brother have conflicts with their work schedules,” she said.
Clark is hopeful her college schedule will allow her to continue retracing the steps of her great-great uncle and other pony express riders for years to come. The South Fremont High School graduate will attend Brigham Young University-Idaho this fall. Her major is rangeland management and wild horse and burro specialties.
“I’m going to keep trying to ride every year, it just depends on which college track I’m on,” she said.
For information about the re-ride and to follow along, visit nationalponyexpress.org.