Published on May 04, 2018

pony express

Fast and Far

As a boy, I was fascinated with the Pony Express—the pioneering mail delivery service that used small, quick horses and wiry, hardy riders to carry messages and mail across the wilds of the western United States in under 10 days.  

It was easy to imagine myself on the back of one of those ponies, hunched down and racing at full speed across the prairie, carrying nothing but a revolver, a canteen of water, and the “mochila,” or mail pouch, slung across the saddle.

I wondered what it was like to come galloping into a relay station and slide swiftly from the exhausted pony onto the fresh mount, spurring the eager horse back onto the dusty trail that stretched out across the desert for another shift.  And after 75 miles of pell-mell progress, to relinquish the mochila to another rider and be welcomed into a “home station,” where there would be a hot meal and a bit of conversation before tumbling into a bunk for some rest—then getting up to do it all again.

The Pony Express was proof that if you wanted to move the mail quickly, you sent a rider on a horse, not a stagecoach.

Then I read about the way it really worked! I discovered that there were 184 relay and home stations. There were more than 400 horses spread across them. In addition to 200 riders, it required several hundred people to keep the Pony Express operational.  They staffed the stations and cared for the horses, keeping them healthy and ready to be ridden. They provided food and shelter for the riders, making sure they were rested and ride-ready on schedule and at the right places. They provided security for the home and relay stations, including the ponies and their riders.

They proved it was the group that worked together with one purpose that could move the mail from one side of the country to the other.

It’s one more way to illustrate the importance of teamwork—the simple truth that we can achieve far greater success by working together than by going it alone.  In healthcare, it takes a team to go the distance for our patients.  Working in facilities that are optimized for care and healing, and utilizing a dedicated community of clinicians and support staff (in tandem with the families and friends of our patients), creates environments for the maximum healing to occur.

A familiar Nigerian proverb puts the concept succinctly: “If you want to go fast, walk alone; if you want to go far, walk with a group.”

It worked for the Pony Express, and it works for us every day.

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