Animal-powered technology has been important to us throughout human history. We used animals to grind our grain, plow our fields, drive extremely sharp objects into each other, and, of course, give us rides, especially if we can cover them in paint or give them a silly outfit (note that this is not mutually exclusive from driving sharp objects into each other; as a species, we tend to be kind of stupid). We’ve literally been doing this for millennia; the first horse was actually domesticated in 4500 BCE and we didn’t actually wind up giving that species a break until the early twentieth century. And even then, it took a while for that newfangled automobile to take off. Yes, the noble, majestic animal that now costs thousands to buy and maintain was great granddad’s version of a Ford Fiesta.
Being able to traverse huge distances was actually a pretty big deal. Just like driving everywhere is pretty important to the modern day, being able to get people, goods and information long distances away helped define empires. We owe a lot to the cuddly little animals we used because we were too lazy to walk.
But, of course, not everybody has had access to horses. So they have to make do with the animals that are available to them, no matter how silly they look. Remember, we used to kill each other over trivial distinctions in culture; riding something that makes us look stupid is pretty easy after you get past that.
Ahhhh, the majestic buffalo. Well, maybe “majestic” is the wrong word. “Enormous?” Yeah, enormous fits. Ahhhh, the enormous buffalo. Doing… buffalo stuff. Standing… being very still… slowly munching grass…
Anyway, famous around the world for its wings and being the mascot of a football team that was just good enough to keep losing the Super Bowl in the early ‘90s, the buffalo was integral to many cultures across the world, admittedly mostly as food (again, those delicious, delicious wings), but occasionally as a way of getting around.
It’s pretty hard to turn up, but there were, in fact, people who rode the buffalo, and that’s not slang for doing whiskey shooters or performing something that’ll get you arrested in most countries. We mean they actually put a saddle on a creature mostly notable for being hard to knock over and standing in one place, and trying to ride it. We’re not quite sure why; as we said, the buffalo has a reputation for being difficult to get to do, well, anything. If you weighed a couple of tons and had enormous horns on your head, you’d probably be disinclined to do anything some shmuck with a saddle on your back was trying to get you to do as well.
Well, we guess it beats trying to saddle wolves and ride them. The wolf would be uncomfortable, and it’d look like “Lord of the Rings” cosplay. And nobody wants that anymore.
Unlike some of this list, we can see why somebody thought riding a bear, especially into battle, made sense. For one thing, who’s going to get in your way, try to cut you off, or otherwise be a jerk to you? You’re riding a freaking bear! You don’t even have to get off the bear to put somebody in their place (namely six feet under). The bear can just take care of that for you, probably not even interrupting his stride while doing it. In fact, you can probably just show up to the battle in your underpants, and read a magazine while the bear goes through and eats anybody trying to knock you off the saddle. The only two reasons we don’t ride bears to work is the cost in feeding them and the fact that they’re enormous predators who generally aren’t shy about telling you to back off in a rather scary way, which is why people using bears as a form of locomotion is actually fairly rare.
But it is possible, as you can see. Especially if a bear is raised in captivity, it’s comfortable around humans and happy to haul them around for short distances. Then the bear decides it doesn’t want you on its back anymore.
On the other hand, apparently you can, as we learned from the circus and innumberable episodes of “you won’t believe your eyes”-type programs, train a bear to ride pretty much anything. Bears have zero sense of the ridiculous, which definitely helps, so they’ll just clamber on. Horse, moped, bicycle… There’s nothing a bear won’t ride! They’ll even ride other bears! We’re still talking about the ursine mammal, right? Because “bear” can be slang for something else entirely…
Yes, ostriches. The birds with the really big eggs. Those ostriches. People ride them, and not just in ancient arcade games that nobody will release on the PlayStation Network either. Yes, “Joust”, in some limited fashion, is actually real and can actually be done, at least if you’re willing to look absolutely ridiculous while doing it. In fact, adding foam weapons is about the only way riding an ostrich can be made to look more ridiculous.
Ostriches aren’t actually that great as a mode of transport (although they’re delicious on the grill), but what they are good at, incredibly good at in fact, is racing. It turns out that an ostrich, being essentially two very muscular legs attached to one very ornery bird, are ideal for supporting the weight of a human and running really quickly. How fast can they run? Up to 35 MPH, which may not sound fast but can be light speed when you’re clinging to a creature who wants nothing more than to toss you off its back and go somewhere sane, where they treat ostriches with respect instead of racing them. Ostrich racing is popular wherever you find them, so mostly Africa and some parts of the Arab world. Most of this popularity is based on people betting on an ostrich to win because of the aerodynamics of its neck or whatever. We guess that when you’re either very poor or live in a country with extremely restricted media, you’ll take whatever entertainment you can get.
Llamas have a reputation for being incredibly unpleasant animals, and it is a reputation that anybody who has been near one can tell you is incredibly well deserved. Very few animals can be accurately described as “surly”, but of the group, the llama decidedly fits the bill. How else do you describe an animal that expresses love, affection, hatred, distaste, hunger and minor discomfort entirely by spitting? And how did that spitting thing even evolve in the first place? What kind of evolutionary path decided that the cross between a sheep and a horse should also be able to fire off loogies with surprising accuracy?
Regardless, though, if you live in Peru and have to get anywhere, odds are pretty good you’re travelling Llama Express. Riding a llama really is an excellent way to get up the little hills and minor bumps that are the entire Andes mountain range. Also, llamas happen to be exceptionally tasty creatures, and their attitude in life makes consuming them afterwards an immensely pleasurable experience.