I'm looking for an alternative for horses. Why not horses? the short answer is the gods didn't want to create them. The gods in my universe like to annoy humanity. Horses only seem to really benefit them and not the other favored races, My humans are semi-nomadic with a culture of cavalry warfare including horse archery. I'm looking for alternative animals I might be able to justify in universe. So I found this question and it doesn't fully answer my own question. My world has two constraints not seen in the original question.

My humans originate in a climate pretty similar to the savanna, north Africa and the Levant. Large open plains but very dry. So my restrictions for an alternative are, adaptable to a harsh dry climate, must be able to carry a rider over long distances, temperament that makes them usable on the battlefield and their gait must allow for mounted archery.

It's not required they have all of the above traits out of the box. Humans first used wild donkeys for their chariots before switching to horses and it took ages to breed ones large enough to be ridden. So I'm willing to take the time to breed this animal into a formidable mount.

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    $\begingroup$ Once you've encountered a few camels you'll understand why they weren't used more frequently, but Camelry was a thing in appropriate environments and possibly the most common "not an equine" used. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Feb 16, 2019 at 16:54
  • $\begingroup$ Why is this not a duplicate of the other question? It's not enough to simply not like the other answers. You need to explain exactly why that question (the question, not the answers) fails your needs. Getting more answers to the previous question is the preferred solution rather than asking a duplicate question. Further, the help center states that you shouldn't ask questions where you provide your own answers and are simply looking for more (which you did). Finally, the world is full of animals to Google. Pick one. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Feb 16, 2019 at 16:54
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe a smaller version of the en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_African_elephant? One that could be domesticated. Or a very large version of the warthog. The current one is 150 kg/330 lb, you need at least an animal three times that to carry a rider. $\endgroup$ Feb 16, 2019 at 16:56
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    $\begingroup$ Related answer to a different question: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/136024/… $\endgroup$ Feb 16, 2019 at 16:57
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    $\begingroup$ Everybody is thinking it: Bears. Since many species will also eat your weaker troopers, it keeps your folks at peak battle readiness. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Feb 16, 2019 at 17:17

3 Answers 3


Behold your savior - Taurotragus, the elands: Pictured: Absolute unit Common elands (T. oryx) come from many parts of southern Africa (a region apparently irrelevant in your alternate world), including the Kalahari, and the 'giant' eland (T. derbianus, however, they're only slightly larger) is native to the savannas, scrublands and sometimes even deserts just south of the Sahel. The dry seasons can get very dry indeed, but that don't worry our antelope buddies none. Unlike camels, they can't directly store water in their body. They are, however, incredibly efficient at conserving water. Their feces is quite dry, their urine is highly concentrated urea, they can change their core body temperature with the weather and they are capable of getting their daily water requirements just from the plants they eat. In short, they'll be happy to lap up some liquid water but in a pinch they really don't need to as much as other animals, especially not horses or cattle.

Camels will make excellent long-distance transport animals or even draft animals. But alas, they're no horses. Yes, it's true that camel 'cavalry' has existed in various forms throughout history. But most of it has been in response to horses because of how much they hate camels. When used like cavalry, camels can be rather unwieldly in wartime situations. They're slower to accelerate, can't keep up their top speed for very long, and their high center of gravity will make sharp turns quite the prospect. It's also less convenient to swipe at people from way up there. Without the deterring, anti-horse quality, they're just big targets.

Both eland species, being antelope of course, are quite athletic, but giant elands are clearly the faster of the two with a top speed of 70 km/h to the common eland's 40. At least two pages from a discount hunting agency and another hunting website claims that they can run continuously for hours, but due to the lack of clarification I'm going to assume at least some of that distance is a half-speed trot. Both species can jump several feet over vertical obstacles.

Both species, while still wild animals, can easily acclimate to human presence. They are bred in captivity, with common eland being the popular choice for farming for meat and milk.enter image description here

You could probably pick either of these species. For speed, I'm not sure how extensively this has been researched; the data for common elands could come from very few observations, for example. I'd personally go for the giant eland anyway based on what we do know, and though they don't form herds quite as large I don't think it's much of an issue. Size-wise, T. oryx bulls weigh up to 942 kg versus T. derbianus' 1000 kg, which isn't much of a difference and both are quite hefty.

Being ruminants, elands will also be more effective at digesting plant material than horses. They consequently require less food, and elands themselves are capable of both grazing and browsing a wider range of plants than horses or cattle are used to.

Exotic mounts like these can really spice up a world.

enter image description here (Credit: What If We Had Never Domesticated The Horse?

  • $\begingroup$ Oh man I should've remembered the Eland from when I designed a fantasy version of Uganda. Southern Africa isn't so much irrelevant as that my world is an artificial construct, not even a sphere and there just isn't an equivalent of southern Africa. But a good one, indeed this should fit quite nicely. $\endgroup$
    – Mormacil
    Feb 17, 2019 at 18:22

Remember that a horse is a camel designed by a committee with all the flaws of being an imperfect camel. Horses are just cheap imitations of camels.

Elephants can live in very dry climates. Since every elephant needs to drink a lot of water every day, an army or caravan using elephants would have to carefully plan its march to always be able to camp at waterholes and to carry along enough food for the elephants in really arid places.

Mules are also superior to horses in many respects so possibly your people might breed mules.

It is always possible that a trading caravan or army might contain several different species of transportation and riding animals, such as horses, Bactrian camels, dromedary camels, elephants, rhinos, mules, horse-zebra hybrids, cattle, bison, large goats, dogs, etc., using different species for different purposes for the most efficient operation.

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    $\begingroup$ "A mule is the offspring of a male donkey (jack) and a female horse (mare)." If the world doesn't have horses, it can't have mules either. $\endgroup$
    – Cyn
    Feb 16, 2019 at 18:51
  • $\begingroup$ The truth is the other way around. Camels aren't quite as fast as horses and their swinging gait makes it difficult to fire arrows from camelback. $\endgroup$ Feb 19, 2019 at 19:19


I've ridden camels in North Africa, the Gulf, and savanna regions of central Asia. They're taller and faster than horses and can rival for endurance. Keeping them cataphract (completely enclosed), and training them to suit your purposes, you may find the gods jealous of your camels.

enter image description here (can't find a credit for this picture - source google image search)

From this Herodian IV.14.3, Meanwhile Artabanus was upon them with his vast and powerful army composed of many cavalry and an enormous number of archers and armoured riders (kataphraktous), who fought from the backs of camels with long spears, avoiding close combat.

  • $\begingroup$ Actually, from what I'd read, camels have serious cavalry drawbacks. They aren't quite as fast as horses and their swinging gait makes it difficult to fire arrows from camelback. $\endgroup$ Feb 19, 2019 at 19:20
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnWDailey - oh my, have you been to a camel race before? They can match horse speeds (the best of them), and endurance racing between the two are pretty well-matched. But I do take your point about the gait (though, it is possible to adjust to that like we do with horses). $\endgroup$
    – Mikey
    Feb 19, 2019 at 19:29
  • $\begingroup$ Just echoing what I've been told when I asked a question about the camelry in America: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/77575/… $\endgroup$ Feb 19, 2019 at 19:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Mikey How long can a camel keep up its top speed, and how long does it take to accelerate? A horse can apparently maintain a gallop for about 5 minutes before needing to rest, the average racehorse seems to reach up to 40 mph and Quarter Horses can go 50. A quick google says a camel's top speed is 40 mph for 'short sprints', but there's not much available on if that's normal, how long the sprint is, etc. A cavalry mount needs to have quick acceleration and high maneuverability. $\endgroup$ Feb 21, 2019 at 16:22
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    $\begingroup$ @ThesaurusRex - agreed. I mean, OP is literally looking for a alternatives to horses in a dry climate. Dunno what else I could add. $\endgroup$
    – Mikey
    Feb 23, 2019 at 3:40

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