If you didn’t know already, horses are far from the only animals we can ride (although they’re certainly the most popular). My curiosity about which animals humans can ride led me down a rabbit hole of research and I’m excited to share the results with you.
Horses, elephants, camels, and water buffalo are animals commonly ridden in various parts of the world. The most unusual animals you can ride include:
- giant tortoises
- and more!
If you’re interested in learning more about how common it is to ride these unusual animals, where you can ride them yourself, and interesting facts about their riding history, we’ve got it all in this article, in order of most to least unusual.
When you’re thinking of animals you can ride, alligators are probably the farthest thing from your mind. These large reptiles sit low on the ground, aren’t domesticated, and are also known for their powerful bites. They’re not exactly the most inviting seat.
However, riding alligators used to be a tourist attraction in the 1900s in the U.S., where alligator farms held shows revolving around their gators and allowed children to ride them. The practice stopped when the novelty wore off and now remains only a part of history.
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NOTE: Today, if you tried riding an alligator you’re more likely to be fined for animal abuse, like in this case a few years ago.
If you’ve only ever seen the smaller pet turtles and tortoises, you’ll be shocked when you see how big tortoises can get. The large size of these tortoises makes it possible to fit a child onto their back. Indeed, there have been records of children riding tortoises.
The largest species, the Galapagos tortoise, can grow to 1.3 meters long and weigh 660 pounds. The largest Galapagos tortoise ever recorded was over 6 feet long and weighed around 880 pounds.
Unfortunately, as interesting as it would be to ride a tortoise, it’s not good for them – they’re not designed to carry weight on their back.
Our first evidence of ostrich riding dates as far back as 3,000 years ago, during the period when ostriches were first kept in captivity for their meat, eggs, and feathers.
When the birds became partly domesticated in the mid-19th century, many ostrich farms began cropping up in South Africa and eventually started offering ostrich rides as an attraction for visitors.
Out of humanitarian concerns over the ostriches’ well-being, the practice declined and now only a few farms around the world allow it. Ostrich racing, however, which began in 1890 as a byproduct of ostrich riding, still happens today.
Dolphins are the poster children of sea-themed attractions, beloved by many aquarium and park visitors for their friendliness and showmanship.
In many countries around the world, such as the U.S., Mexico, Australia, and others, you can swim and ride alongside dolphins — you hold onto their dorsal fin as they pull you through the water.
NOTE: As friendly as dolphins bred in captivity may seem, the conditions can still be stressful for them. Exposure to people can lead to human viral and bacterial infections, as well as stress-related conditions like ulcers. Some people also experience injury from dolphins demonstrating aggressive behavior.
Llamas are not the strongest animal around, but they can be ridden by small children. As light-pack animals, they can carry around 25% of their total body weight.
You can encounter llamas in Argentina, Peru, Ecuador, and the U.S., specifically in national parks like Yellowstone.
Llamas can weigh up to 400 pounds, so the biggest llamas can carry 100 pounds maximum. That’s much lower than the weight of a fully-grown adult, so typically only children under 50 pounds are allowed to ride llamas.
Most people know reindeer are the animals responsible for pulling Santa’s sleigh, but most don’t know you can ride them in real life. Certain nomadic tribes in Finland and Mongolia keep up a longstanding tradition of herding reindeer.
If you’re interested in trying it for yourself, pay a visit to the Tsaatan Tribe in Mongolia, where you can experience life among them and their reindeer. Here you can:
- herd the reindeer at night
- milk them in the morning
- ride them to forage for berries
- ride them to visit the neighbors
- make noodles
- drink reindeer milk tea
Bull riding follows a significantly different set of mechanics than riding other animals. It’s not a calm trot or a casual gallop – the objective is to sit on the bull as long as possible while it tries to violently buck you off.
Bull riding is a popular sport in many countries, such as:
- the U.S.
- New Zealand
- Costa Rica
TIP: If you’d rather try it yourself than watch a tournament, maybe stick to the mechanical bull at your local bar instead of risking getting kicked by a live one!
- Tibet, China
NOTE: The natural habitat of these furry giants is high up in the mountains, so they’re the best option for both locals and tourists who want to trek around the highlands.
Yaks have been domesticated in Central Asia, so their gentle nature shouldn’t prove troublesome for riders. You can try yak riding tours in nature reserves, but if you’re looking for a longer trip, you can also rent or buy your very own yak.
When you leave the country, you can sell it to a butcher or donate it to locals, who can use it for:
- pack animal
The water buffalo is another riding animal that’s popular in Asia, particularly in:
These domesticated beasts of burden are common farm animals, similar to cows or chickens in other countries. The ride will be rather slow, but it’s a great opportunity to appreciate the sights and sounds of the peaceful countryside.
Since ancient times, elephants have been an integral part of Thailand’s national identity. If you’re interested in seeing the world from the top of the largest land mammal, hop on a plane to Thailand.
Some of the best places to hitch a ride are:
- Khao Sok National Park
- Phuket Island
- Chiang Mai
TIP: You can opt for a quick ride just as a photo-op, or you can go all-in and try out a multi-day elephant safari!
Camels have a longstanding history as transport animals in desert regions due to their capability to endure the heat and lack of water.
If you’re heading to Egypt, camel rides can be an interesting tourist trap to get caught up in. You can try out short trips around the pyramids and multi-day treks into the desert.
IMPORTANT TIP: Make sure to stay alert – opportunistic scammers can jack up their prices after you’re already on the camel or lead you away from the group until you agree to pay!
Finally, we come to the most common riding animal in the world – the horse. They were first domesticated 6,000 years ago in the western half of the Eurasian Steppe.
NOTE: If you’re interested in how animals become domesticated, check out my article, “How Animals Become Domesticated“
Since then, they’ve been a valuable companion to humanity, serving as the main method of transportation before we invented more efficient methods.
But even though horses are no longer our main method of transportation, horseback riding is still an extremely popular recreational activity.
Trying out a horseback ride can be extremely simple, as many places around the world offer it as part of their attractions. Equine animals similar to horses, such as donkeys and mules (a crossbreed between donkeys and horses), are also very common riding animals.
The list of animals you can ride is extensive, but it’s good to remember that just because you can ride an animal, it doesn’t mean you should. Animals like alligators, tortoises, ostriches, dolphins, and llamas aren’t built to take the weight of a human on their back.
Other animals, however, like reindeer, yaks, water buffalo, elephants, camels, and horses do possess enough strength to carry people. They also have a longstanding history of working alongside humans, so it lessens the risk of accidents.
Always be mindful of the animal you’re riding. At the end of the day, they don’t exist solely to be your ride.
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