What makes animals ride-able?

While spitballing fantasy world creation with a friend who’s writing a novel, I was asked whether or not a character could ride an antelope.

Yes. No. Maybe. A small enough character, a big enough antelope, I guessed.

So I turn to you, Teeming Millions.

In the general case, what makes an animal capable of being ridden? Is it simply a question of size? How much is it mechanics? A tiger may weigh as much as a donkey (or more) but the donkey looks sturdier to me (discounting the part where the tiger bites you; donkeys can bite too).

(We’ll leave the domestication issue aside; I searched the board and found lengthy discussion on that, so I’m not touching it.)

Part of the reason I ask is because I recently finished John Keegan’s history of warfare, in which he mentions that old drawings show Assyrian warriers astride the rear hips of the horse because (drum roll) that’s how they rode. The horse wasn’t strong enough at that point to support human weight between shoulders and hips.

How strong is strong enough? How big is big enough? What animal body types work or would work for riding?



When I was little I used to wonder about this same thing, more specifically why no one rode cows. I mean they look almost like horses, right? After I tried to get on one I found out.

Mostly it’s a question of trainability. Horse’s are herd animals and used to a hierarchy, like dogs and dog packs. So they’re “hardwired” to obey a leader. Zebras, for example, prove largely too attitudinal to train like a horse.

Other criteria would be:

  • herbivorous (your steed should better not see you as its packed lunch)
  • herd/pack animal as opposed to loner (to get along with humans)
  • not strongly territorial (you want to go places on the animal)
  • no horns or other strong defences - being optimized for running away from predators obviously makes for a better riding animal. It also favours the rider when there is a difference of opinion…

You may remember the fine documentary of the old West, Blazing Saddles, in which Mongo rode a steer into town.

When I was young I was told that Zebra’s were not ridable because their backs weren’t strong enough to carry a human. Is this true? They seem as big and strong as horses. Could you selectively breed them so that they could carry humans?

Long story short…Zebra’s are not ridable because they are mean and they bite. See jared diamonds ‘guns, germs, and steel’

I like a nice ass.

You may find this of interest:


I also know from growing up around dairy farms that dairy cows will tolerate being ridden at least a little bit, if you accept a kid sitting on them while they wander into the barn to be milked as “riding”. The kid will probably get off when yelled at by the farmer, who’s likely to be more disturbed about it than the cow.

I have a postcard that has a picture of a man riding a Hereford bull. According to the write-up, in 1964 he rode this bull from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico to promote beef.

I wouldn’t encourage trying this at home. :slight_smile:


We’re supposed to want to eat something capable of long-distance transport?

Why not? I hear Jumbo is quite tasty.

Why not? I hear Jumbo is quite tasty.

… and two even more so. Dang!

Bulls can be ridden and taught to jump like horses. Well, maybe not as high.

I have several vintage photographs of people riding moose and caribou in Alaska. There was even a plan in the earl 1900s to turn moose into draft animals. Dunno why these plans failed.

I’ve seen people ride ostriches (full-grown ones) - there was some old disney-type movie with a guy doing this; and no the technology wasn’t around at the time to fake it. Don’t think you could ride one from Canada to Mexico though…

Cattle of various kinds are and have been ridden for millennia. Water buffalo are still a common riding animal throughout SE Asia and India. Cattle have long been ridden in Northern India at least, while Yaks occasionally in serve as transport in the Himalayan regions. I guess that the reasons cattle weren’t ridden elsewhere was a lack of need. Most places had horses avaialble for the nobility and donkeys for the peasantry. AFAIK donkeys never made it into much of Eastern Asia.

I don’t know if anyone has ever tried, but I can’t see any reason why a normal sized man couldn’t ride one of the larger antelope such as a wildebeeste.

A yearly tradition at Gulfstream on Fla.derby day was animal races.I’ve personally seen elephants,camels,and ostriches “race” that 1/6th mile run.In accounts I’ve read ostriches seem to have a mean streak in them,so I don’t know why that would preclude a gang/pride/herd/passel of zebras being trained for it.

Don’t recall the other jockey’s uniforms,but the camel jockies were dressed like,well, * camel jockies *:rolleyes:

I suspect that humans could breed ridability into anything from deer to zebra. It would take longer than horses, true, but given time we could breed almost any damned thing. But of course, in many places, they may simply have never had the time, energy, and inspiration to think there was any point.