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Mounts are one of the coolest things about fantasy in my opinion. Riding around on raptors, dragons, elephants and even weirder things is one of the main draws to a lot of fantasy things.

However, justifying dragons and unicorns can be tricky. So, inspired by the hours I've spent riding a parasaur on ARK, I have a question.

What are the best alternatives to horses—or is there anything better? Drawing on animals that exist in the real world—even if they are extinct—what are the best animals to fulfill the transportation and haulage roles of horses? Answers should take feeding/housing into consideration, but domestication can take any length of time. The environment is a mix of dense, rain-forest jungle and open plains with minimal hills. Rivers and lakes are plentiful and river transportation could be a viable option if creatures allow it.

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  • $\begingroup$ Just to clarify, this question is purely about the ability to transport people and goods? Do you have any particular environment in mind (horses aren't as feasible as camels in the desert), or do we qualify answers based purely on the numbers? $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jun 9 '15 at 17:22
  • $\begingroup$ I'm leaning more towards mixed jungle and plains, I'll edit that into the question $\endgroup$ – Titanide Jun 9 '15 at 17:26
  • $\begingroup$ Are we assuming that these animals and humans are exactly "as is" on Earth? As in... the humans are no better at domesticating something than we are, and the animals are no more likely to get domesticated? $\endgroup$ – Theik Jun 11 '15 at 9:59
  • $\begingroup$ No, the animals are much easier to domesticate and the humans are more skilled at it. $\endgroup$ – Titanide Jun 11 '15 at 10:23
  • $\begingroup$ The Final Fantasy games use giant birds called Chocobo's to great effect. Basically you pretty safe with any horse size herbivore with a herd mentally, regardless if it has feathers, scales or fur. $\endgroup$ – MrDracoSpirit Jun 11 '15 at 11:00

12 Answers 12

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The best choices here are actually not going to be that exciting but there are many options around the globe for transportation/pack animals.

Around the globe, you have camels, donkeys, llamas, oxen, reindeer, elephants and water buffaloes.

Some potential options that I don't think have been done before are american bison, Elk, and moose. The idea of a rhinoceros is appealing though generally against their nature as they tend to be edgy...but a rhino cavalry charge would be fantastic. enter image description here

Generally speaking you are not going to be able to use predators as mounts, as cool an idea as it is their bodies are not able to support weight the way pack animals can. They are also designed to be agile where as pack animals while potentially fast are generally not terribly agile. If you want to make a tiger (for example) believable you would have to make it very rare, a special ranger loner type bond.

If we get into dinosaurs its harder to say. Its somewhat realistic to believe we could have tamed some herbivores during the time of the dinosaurs but without knowing their behaviors the way we know living creatures its hard to say.

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    $\begingroup$ A rhinoceros sounds like a good idea- I think a lot of non-european animals could be used $\endgroup$ – Titanide Jun 9 '15 at 18:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Titanide I think birds are the closest thing we have to how dinosaurs behaved, so using them as mounts sounds quite difficult. liveleak.com/view?i=6e0_1385652769 this guy is riding an emu. He got prosecuted for animal abuse. Still, riding an emu is probably the closest thing to riding a tamed velociraptor there is on this earth. $\endgroup$ – Formagella Jun 9 '15 at 22:30
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    $\begingroup$ I play Magic the Gathering and I can assure you beasts like this handle riders all the time. $\endgroup$ – corsiKa Jun 10 '15 at 16:16
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    $\begingroup$ @corsiKa ...uh I don't know that I would use Magic as a reference to real world options. $\endgroup$ – James Jun 10 '15 at 17:10
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    $\begingroup$ James i think the word you are looking for here is humor. If i identified @corsiKa 's intentions right i think he was making a joke. $\endgroup$ – Magic-Mouse Jun 11 '15 at 6:45
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I noticed this thread at the front page and could have sworn I gave an answer to it. It turns out, though, I only gave an answer to a similar question which can be found here.

In it I included some giraffids from the Miocene, which wouldn't exactly fit the bill for "realistic" (although the Pleistocene Sivatherium could hypothetically become a draft animal). Even though this post is over 3 years old and you may have already went through with your story, I'll see if I can answer anyway because what even are responsibilities?

In order to have an alternate "horse", it needs to share these similarities:

  1. It needs to be large and strong enough to ride and pull vehicles, or at least be feasibly bred to such a size later on (just like the real horse's history).
  2. It must be intelligent enough to train. Sorry, rhinos and ostriches...
  3. It must have the stamina to work for extended periods of time.
  4. It must have a comparable speed and have a quick acceleration to that speed, matching the horse's effectiveness in battle.
  5. A herding social structure is not vital to domestication, but will help immensely in becoming a substitute warhorse - the animal will instinctively charge with other mounted animals and be more likely to trust the rider's guidance. This is why donkeys are terrible in battle: they are much more solitary and self-reliant in the wild than horses.

So basing off of your criteria and mine, I will boil down my other answer into a few specific animals that I think would be ideal (as well as adding some new information...so really, not much of a 'boiling down').

  • Zebras: Okay, okay, I'm technically cheating here, but couldn't resist being cheeky. You said no horses, but never said anything about equines in general! Unlike the parroted words from Guns, Germs and Steel that you may often hear, this is actually more doable than you think. I'm actually working on a very long Quora answer about zebras which pooh-pooh's Diamond's claims on the subject; I'll be sure to link it when I'm done.

To put it short, though, zebra "domestication" was much more successful than people remember (albeit low-intensity), went on for several decades before being replaced by more efficient horse medicine and modern vehicles, most zebra species share the exact same social structure as a horse, zebra behavior towards humans is little different from the tarpan, and among all the species the most readily tamed animal was the now-extinct quagga, which would then have a temperament not unlike a domestic horse which is beyond impressive for a wild animal.

So you could do it if you wanted. Of these, the ideal "horse" replacements would likely be one of the plains zebras; either the Burchell's Zebra or the quagga. The Grévy's zebra handles more like a donkey than the plains zebras. They all might be too close to horses for your liking, though!

enter image description here

A final note, horses and zebras are both capable of some light browsing and so could probably make it on the periphery of your jungle habitat, but may have nutritional deficiencies if they stay too long.

  • Bovins: My gut instinct go with some long-legged variant of domestic cattle, since this is of course the animal we know the most about. OTL, we have longhorns, which have a more cursorial build than other cattle and are popular to ride. Yaks could work, were it not for the fact that they aren't adapted well to your world's climate. And water buffalo are great alone in your jungles, but their wide feet would make for terrible long-distance runners. Cattle are well-adjusted to your world. They can handle a wider variety of feed than horses, and, being ruminants, can digest their food more efficiently which will be very helpful in the jungle.

Alternatively, and if you wanted to spice things up, you could go with the banteng. They have the affinity for dense, wet tropical forests like the water buffalo, but have a build more like regular cattle which makes developing running breeds easier. They're only somewhat domesticated IOTL and so we have very little information to go on, which makes this risky for a 'realistic' mount because of the assumptions we have to make. But if you assume they're like cattle, which I don't think is too 'out there', then they would be quite ideal for your world.

The biggest quip about bovins (but not other bovines) is that their backs tend to be very flat, leading to a rather more uncomfortable ride than a horse. Any long-term riders will be very bowlegged...but this could potentially be solved in ATL breeds.

Addendum: Any kind of head-butting mount will have interesting implications in war, especially when faced with another head-butting animal...

  • Camelids: The dromedary camel, or a surviving Hemiauchenia. Camels can approach some horses in speed, but the fastest camel is still slower than the fastest horse, can't keep up their top speed for long and aren't as agile or quick to accelerate. The size of a camel can make cutting down people difficult, but doable with a lance or long sword. Camel archery is also feasible.

Dromedaries are much more adaptable to hot, humid weather than Bactrians, but will still require ATL breeds to survive in actual jungle. Hemiauchenia has been found from Nebraska to Florida, so not only may it prove the most adaptable, but may also be the faster and more agile pick. Beware the giant llama.

  • Antelope: The giant eland would be the best pick for riding-type domestic antelope. I talk very favorably about eland domestication in this post. In 1924, Arthur Blayney Percival, member of the African Game Department, speaks highly of the eland's speed and ability, at least for the cows (he may be talking about the common eland), and says they are "easily trained to harness". Harry Edgell, who lived in German East Africa and had been performing hybridization experiments on tame zebras, said that two elands in double harness "trotted thirteen miles without a break". Hugh Cholmondeley, 3rd Baron Delamere apparently had similar success breaking in elands, but I can't find a more direct source.

Though the common eland is more...common in a farming context, both species are farmed and ranched. They're a safe bet. They can eat a wide variety of plant material and are hardy in dry areas, but might have some problems in densely forested areas.

  • Deer: Any large member of Cervus canadensis, though I'd go with the Eastern elk for their size and ubiquity. Reindeer would be the obvious answer if it weren't for the fact that they'd all die in your world. Compared to the eland, there isn't as much solid information on taming apart from anecdotes and rumors. However, it's safe to assume that they're much the same as the smaller Rocky Mountain elk, which are easily tamed and are farmed today for meat and antlers. If you've ever had an elk burger at Fuddruckers, it was from a semi-domestic elk bred in captivity. There also exist at least two ambiguous photos of a man riding an elk, which may be Roosevelt elk from their size.

Elk are highly adaptable generalists and can survive on the open grasslands, dense forests, hot, dry, humid, cold, whatever. They will eat almost anything and digest it more efficiently than cattle. If you have a ridable breed, then I think these are the ones best equipped to handle all of your world's biomes.

Unlike many bovines which headbutt and slowly back away for another impact, nearly all deer, elk included, fight by constantly pushing forward and lock antlers (exemplified well in this video). Unless you're using cow elk, that would make for an interesting battle dynamic.

enter image description here

That's pretty much everything as far as "realistic" goes. To get more diverse animals we'd need to go back in time further than realism would allow, starting with pre-Interchange South American megafauna. Though who doesn't want to ride a terrorbird...assuming you can keep your balance and your limbs?

It's hard to rank these animals from best to least suited because they're all so close together and have their benefits and drawbacks, However, we may not have to split the difference: you could have separate animals for open and forested terrain. Zebras, elands and dromedaries seem the best equipped for just the plains and light forest, cattle and potentially Hemiauchenia are excellent plains mounts that can handle incursions into the jungle, and banteng and elk are the best equipped for life in dense forests, though elk can thrive in nearly all of these biomes.

For that reason, I'm really tempted to call elk the "winner" here, despite the lack of domestication data and a close match with more specialized animals.

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    $\begingroup$ Now this...this is an answer. Excellent work dude :) $\endgroup$ – Ynneadwraith Feb 23 at 9:48
  • $\begingroup$ Very realistic answer! $\endgroup$ – William R. Ebenezer Jun 8 at 16:44
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Depending on the weight of the rider or the load carried, an ostrich could make a good mount. I have only seen people ride them short distances though. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=plk35VYDKZE

They seem to be having trouble staying on, but an improved saddle might be all that is needed.

The ostrich is an omnivore so finding food for it should be no problem. It can go without water for several days.

The ostrich can swim. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuB0tqCKv1w

Although I haven't seen it, I am thinking that a pack of ostriches could pull a sled.

During breeding season and sometimes during extreme rainless periods ostriches live in nomadic groups of five to 100 birds (led by a top hen) that often travel together with other grazing animals,

Birds are superior to mammals in some points:

The ostrich utilizes its respiratory system via a costal pump for ventilation rather than a diaphragmatic pump as seen in most mammals. Thus, they are able to use a series of air sacs connected to the lungs. The use of air sacs forms the basis for the three main avian respiratory characteristics:

Air is able to flow continuously in one direction through the lung, making it more efficient than the mammalian lung.

It provides birds with a large residual volume, allowing them to breathe much more slowly and deeply than a mammal of the same body mass.

It provides a large source of air that is used not only for gaseous exchange, but also for the transfer of heat by evaporation.

The maximum metabolic scope in an ostrich is seen to be at least 28 times greater than the BMR. Likewise, the daily energy turnover rate for an ostrich with access to free water is 12,700 kJ·d−1, equivalent to 0.26 ml O2 g−1 h−1.

Source: Wikipedia

Ostrich Max Speed:50 mph Average Speed for 20+ miles:30 mph Estimated Marathon Time:45 minutes

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    $\begingroup$ The gait of an ostrich doesn't really lend itself to the spinal heath of a rider...but it'd be funny to watch. $\endgroup$ – James Jun 9 '15 at 18:37
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    $\begingroup$ If the Ostrich is a little hard for long journeys then we could go with something similar but bigger from the broad selections of Pleistocene megafauna - may be Dromomis or one of the Moa species? $\endgroup$ – glenatron Jun 10 '15 at 8:41
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Camels

Where I lived in the UAE they were treated similarly - used as beasts of burden, transportation, but also there were regular endurance races and even beauty pageants! They're stronger, bigger, faster and nicer*. They also produce a lot of very nutritious milk.

This might not be the sexy answer you're looking for, but when you're riding a camel, it's pretty awesome and your feet are about where a horseback rider's head is, in height.

*- never assume, though, that it will be nice!

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Since we are on Worldbuilding SE, I would give an answer like:

HUMANS

Let's say You will mix two tribes that coexist: high, strong ppl with short ones, but more agile. If both tribe would work together in terms of warfare they may come into conclusion that it's far better to have 1 or 2 'strong' men plus 1 'agile' rider with bow than monts that needs to be fed and raised. More benefits? All of them (carriers and - let's say - archers) can think, don't really need to be steered, giving/receiving orders, they all can fight if dismounted, they can swim/crawl/climb/prowl/shoot/melee/sack/pillage/procreate.
What we must face here is a story that would ligitimize all of this coexistence and all of the outcomes to their society. We may say that 'tall ones' must be slaves, but it would worsen this scenario in my opinion. Just think about all of positives.
Negative sides are: limited (inferior to horses for example) speed and constitution, possible problems within society, role diversion due to different body build, and so on. I guess that the idea is worth of taking into consideration.

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  • $\begingroup$ This sounds a bit like Jack Vance's story "The Dragon Masters" where the humans use genetically bred Dragons to fight off an invasion of Dragons using genetically bred Humans. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Jun 11 '15 at 19:04
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I would look back in history to the mega fauna of the Miocene and Pliocene. There are tons of large pack animals to choose from like:

Indricotheriinae

Personally I think large canids and ursids would make more interesting choices. Canids may be a little more inclined to domestication than ursids, but ursids would probably be able to support more weight.

Look for things like:

Epicyon
Amphicyon Major
Arctotherium

Even though these are obviously carnivores or at best omnivores, I would guess that some of them may be social enough to domesticate on a long enough timeline.

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I recommend the Procoptodon:

A giant cousin of Skippy the Bush Kangaroo.

enter image description here

Attribution Wikipedia 2019 Licence

a genus of giant short-faced kangaroo living in Australia during the Pleistocene epoch.

Extinct now, but thought to have been around as recently as 18,000 years ago and quite suited to unkind terrain:

Procoptodon goliah was mainly known for living in semiarid areas of South Australia and New South Wales. These environments were harsh, characterised by vast areas of treeless, wind-blown sand dunes.

Artist's impression of a mount and rider (note the stowaway):

enter image description here

Attribution Survive-ark.com 2019

More than one theory about their locomotion exists - that they hopped like today's kangaroos or that they walked and ran in a fashion similar to humans, it's not currently certain.

If their fighting style is anything like modern kangaroos, they would box and bounce up on their tales kicking and tearing with their rear claws velociraptor style.

David Attenborough narrates a Youtube clip of this.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't think Procoptodon could have carried a human rider very far. They are, at most, 530 pounds, only a little taller than a human and definitely out of the weight range for hopping. There's also no real way to 'ride' it in a way that's comfortable for either party. The ARK animal, as are all ARK dinos, are fancifully exaggerated creatures blown up to be huge. $\endgroup$ – Thesaurus Rex Feb 23 at 4:03
  • $\begingroup$ @ThesaurusRex You're quite correct. My first thought had been a specially bred kangaroo mouse mostly because of the desert-fringe adaptation, then stumbled on pictures of this. Purely opportunistic. $\endgroup$ – Measure of despare. Feb 23 at 4:18
  • $\begingroup$ Well...you still won @JBH 's bounty, regardless...LOL! Congratulations I guess :P $\endgroup$ – Thesaurus Rex Feb 24 at 18:59
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    $\begingroup$ @ThesaurusRex Are you calling me old? Are you? I'll squash your foot with my zimmer darnit. $\endgroup$ – Measure of despare. Feb 24 at 20:42
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    $\begingroup$ Oh, I uh -- I mean I was just -- look, a Matlock marathon! hops away on a Procoptodon $\endgroup$ – Thesaurus Rex Feb 24 at 23:13
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This is a very interesting one to consider, but there is a good reason that humanity has trained different animals for similar tasks, and that's because different animals can be better suited to particular tasks, so there isn't a 'definitive' answer. A youtuber called ZooTier does great videos on this sort of stuff if you're interested.

Horses are great due to their incredible stamina regeneration, their size and speed. Many horses are pretty good at running, and that's why humans like them. They can be used for war, transportation and recreation. Other animals, not so much. (note: Humans have actually outrun horses on occasion, google 'Man versus Horse Marathon', the conditions normally have to be hot however)

You could cop out and say Camel, as they'd be the next optimal choice if horses went extinct, but I want something more interesting.

enter image description here

Ostriches are incredible animals for many reasons, and could definitely replace horses as mounts, and I believe would be just as effective. They've got everything a horse as got, perhaps just not as good.

One, they can run long distances. Ostriches are good long distance runners and would be very effective at transportation. I'm not too sure what sort of pace they could keep over an extended period of time, but they could get the job done.

Two, they can swim. I don't know how effective they are but I've seen pictures of Ostrich in the ocean, so they're known to be capable at swimming in deep water. I'm unsure as to whether they could support a human on their back if they were ridden however. They probably couldn't, as they only weigh about 120kg, so riders would dismount and guide through deep water, however they can get through shallow water.

Three, they're quick. Ostriches can run faster than horses in a straight line, and they are also a lot more maneuverable. They can use their wings to change direction quickly which horses can't do.

Four, they can fight front ways. Often in war, horses wouldn't charge into an object, like a large group of people. They just refuse to because they know they couldn't slow down before they hit it. Cavalry was more used at skimming groups down from the outside while the main forces were fighting. Although horses were trained to run people down presumably. Ostriches can fight (not effectively, but they're still scary), they can kick front ways and also peck if need be. I couldn't say I've seen this in action so we wouldn't know if they could effectively kill armoured people but if a rider was caught in the middle of enemies, an ostrich can attack front ways, horses on the other hand attack what is in front. Perhaps weaponizing an ostrich is a possibility.

Five, they breed well. Ostriches can lay up to 10 eggs in a season, and as they'll be protected by humans, they'll have a greater likelihood of survival and hence they're replaceable. This could also mean they're farmed for the eggs, meat and feathers. Horses can only make meat.

Six, they don't require as much food as horses. Being much smaller creatures, they can feed on more diverse food as they're omnivores, which means you can have more ostriches.

Seven, they can be aggressive. Most Ostrich would attack humans rather than run from humans. I figure this is a similar aggressive mentality to Swans, and they're quite effective at essentially bluffing their strength, whereas horses would run most times, unless they couldn't.

Disadvantages however are present...

They're quite small in comparison to horses. They weigh 120kg whereas horses can weigh about 500kg, size matters in a fight and you'll feel a kick from a horse a lot more than a kick from an Ostrich. Similarly, this means they're weaker as well. They could be speared pretty easily whereas horses may fair better. However, strength in numbers, would you rather fight five ostriches or one horse? Bear in mind, you're armed.

They can't be used for hauling goods. So they do not have the strength to pull wagons and such and never will. However as your question was pertaining to mounts, I figured this wouldn't matter as much.

It's an interesting alternative to horses as mounts. It should be bore in mind that horses have been domesticated for a long time and as such have adapted to humanity. Had ostriches had the same amount of exposure and adaptation, they'd be a much more viable choice.

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  • $\begingroup$ Didn't realise Ostrich had already been used! Sorry to the other poster, but at least vote Ostrich. $\endgroup$ – DubDub Feb 19 at 16:42
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    $\begingroup$ I'd trust an ostrich to pull weight (people do sometimes have them pull carts) or carry a pack, but that's as far as it goes. Their eyes are bigger than their tiny brain. A lightweight human can ride them, but getting them to go where you want is exceedingly difficult. They're nearly impossible to train and can't form a meaningful bond with their rider. In a war situation, their base instincts would take over and they would flee the danger, not approach it, and forget the rider. Even horses will bite and buck in battle. $\endgroup$ – Thesaurus Rex Feb 23 at 3:34
  • $\begingroup$ There's also the point of balance. Even when you're riding a horse, you're constantly having to shift your weight back and forth, left and right to accomodate both you and the horse. This is much easier to do on an animal with four legs than an animal with two, especially one that's running and turning quickly. Still 'doable', but forget multitasking and one wrong move could spell a tumble. I might trust something larger, like a moa - their braincases are also larger which shows some promise, but since there's no data we'll never know. $\endgroup$ – Thesaurus Rex Feb 23 at 3:36
  • $\begingroup$ @ThesaurusRex I thought about similar ideas, however believe that while this is currently true, it wouldn't always be the case. It's a pretty tough question to replace a horse with a different animal without a bit of help. With so many years of domestication, like horses, Ostritches may become a more formidable mount. I could imagine them bulking up a lot and growing wider, additionally with training, may attack rather than flee. However the lack of intelligence is a shame, and as you say, probably impossible to create a bond with such a creature. $\endgroup$ – DubDub Feb 25 at 9:29
  • $\begingroup$ And it's that bond that's necessary for the ostrich to trust its rider to keep it safe in battle, and the intelligence is necessary to discern friend from foe. Training an ostrich to attack things it's scared of would probably spell disaster. People who train an ostrich say they forget things as fast as they learn them, and even then they only train them for very simple tasks. $\endgroup$ – Thesaurus Rex Feb 25 at 18:09
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Well, Most of your predators are out. Do you really want to go into stressful situations in desolate areas where, not to put too fine a point on it, your ride might think you are dinner? We get away with it with dogs, only because they are pack predators. Lone predators like most great cats and bears might not be a great idea unless you can come up with some sort of un-breakable bond, and that would likely require some handwavium.

Most options are probably going to require a long history of human interaction to make them viable So here are some that might work out, assuming breeding can take care of pushing characteristics to where we want them.

Pigs, Hogs, Swine, etc. We always think of pigs as slow critters that are good for eating and not much else. This is so very wrong though. Pigs are smart. They are strong. They are Omnivorous, though they seem to prefer flora. Feral Hogs are a real problem in place like Texas because the tusks and size make them dangerous, they breed very rapidly, and they can tear up acres of farmland in nothing flat. So breed them to be a bit leaner, and maybe longer legged, and they will probably make decent mounts. They are pretty dangerous with those tusks, too. Hunting wild boar was a very dangerous pastime, in part because they are hard to kill.

Ostritch Ok, it's been mentioned in at least 2 answers, but it's a viable transportation animal. You might need to adjust your thinking a bit. Take a pair of ostrich, harness them to a lightweight chariot and a normal human can get around. Smaller humans could ride one solo with a decent saddle as a messenger.

Moose These will take a few thousand years of training an breeding to make them great mounts, But these would be great for northern climates. They are big, hardy animals. Elk might work too. They could be good in high, mountainous areas.

Just keep in mind that mounts are generally beasts that can also be harnessed to pull as well. If you are looking to move people, a cart or wagon will serve with a wide variety of animals to pull. For a weapon of War, the chariot was the pinnacle for many centuries.

Fodder is also a critical consideration. Your animal needs to be able to eat wherever you go, and if it grows there, great. If not, you have to haul it with you. Grasses and plants travel much better than meats, which is why predators aren't a great idea.

The great part of the animals suggested here is that they all exist in the real world.

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Military T-Rex

While you were inconvenient enough to specify "transportation and haulage" in your OP, I can't resist suggesting this for a specialty role - shock assault cavalry. They're certainly big enough to carry a rider, and at a pre-firearms tech level they would be unstoppable against infantry formations, and it wouldn't take many to be decisive. Just the possibility that the other side has them would be enough to justify the expense of having some yourself - sort of like nuclear weapons.

Of course, breaking one to saddle would probably be a high-risk operation, but you did say that the humans are good at domestication.

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  • $\begingroup$ Honestly the idea of an armoured T-Rex is too good to pass up I don't care how out of place it is. And they might have been social, so you could theoretically have a pack of t-rexes. Like Chris Prat, but much better $\endgroup$ – Titanide Jun 11 '15 at 20:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Titanide - And if they're social, they might be amenable to being dominated and (for certain values of the word) tamed. Although how you'd do an Alpha Roll on an adult T-Rex is... well, it's hard to imagine. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Jun 11 '15 at 20:56
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Maybe large wolves/dogs? Pack mentality, and if large enough could support a rider. In addition wolves are long distance runners, and fast enough for warfare and hunting. Although you could possibly ride Sivatherium giganteum, the largest of extinct giraffids.

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Well if you really want to be reductionist

Mules and Donkeys

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    $\begingroup$ Actually, you can't get mules without horses. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Jun 11 '15 at 20:12
  • $\begingroup$ sure, but you don't have to ride the brood horses, so it still fits his rules. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Jun 11 '15 at 20:58
  • $\begingroup$ True enough, but to get brood mares you need stallions, so you do have rideable horses. In which case, why require a replacement for them? $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Jun 11 '15 at 21:01

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