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Physiology

Efficiency of equine express postal systems

Relay riders over two millennia delivered mail with a remarkably consistent alacrity.

Abstract

Express postal systems relied on horses for a period that spanned two millennia (540 BC to AD 1861), and these systems showed remarkable consistency in the average mail-courier speed and in the distance between horse-changing stations. Here I show how this adopted speed and distance combination was ideal for optimal horse performance and can be explained with a modern understanding of equine physiology and with reference to recent endurance records. The parameters of the historical systems were chosen to avoid heat stress deriving from an otherwise over-boosted metabolic machine and to reduce the risk of the animal falling lame.

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Figure 1: Express postal systems and horse performance.

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Minetti, A. Efficiency of equine express postal systems. Nature 426, 785–786 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1038/426785a

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