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I am currently creating a world in which the group in question is intended to ride reindeer rather than horses. The reasons for this aren't quite relevant, but they simply don't have horses available to most people unless they are extremely rich.

The reindeer in question are different from real-world reindeer, but for the sake of future questioners coming to find an answer, I will pretend these are real-world reindeer of any kind. Though, that info permits a tad of handwavium if it can be reasonably evolved in a semi-short timespan. The environment they are in, if applicable, is a mix of cold desert/tundra, taiga, and mountains.

They eventually gain access to horses more readily, but I was still curious if reindeers would make good mounts that could contend with horses in some manners. It is worth noting that these reindeer are domesticated, can have any riding gear that was available in the 15th century and prior or was plausible to create, and should be appropriate for casual use such as a draft animal or trail animal, if that helps clear up any cons or creates any pros. Bonus points if you can justify a reindeer as a war mount.

In conclusion, what are the pros and cons of using reindeer as mounts instead of horses?

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to worldbuilding. Please take our tour and visit the help center to get familiar with our processes and standard $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Sep 23, 2021 at 3:26
  • $\begingroup$ Have you considered moose instead? There are many real world historical examples of moose being used as mounts. $\endgroup$
    – Mon
    Sep 23, 2021 at 3:55
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    $\begingroup$ Can you describe how your reindeer are different from real world reindeer? Without knowing that we can't provide any meaningful commentary on the relative advantages and disadvantages in your fictional world. Keep in mind that all the riding deer in fiction have extensive but not enumerated handwaving to make them suitable for riding. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Sep 23, 2021 at 4:19
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    $\begingroup$ Why not trying to domesticate moose instead? it sorta almost worked before and you can be sure that a group of warriors charging into battle on 2 meter tall adrenaline fueled behemoths will have a lot more Intimidation power than an equal cavalry of reindeer. $\endgroup$ Sep 23, 2021 at 11:57
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    $\begingroup$ I heard a rumor that 8 or 9 reindeer pulling a large sled with a heavy driver and a lot of cargo can achieve flight capability, so one reindeer shoud be able to carry an average human aloft. That's definitely an advantage over a horse. 😆 $\endgroup$ Feb 21, 2022 at 11:20

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You'd have to cut the antlers down. This is because reindeer shake their heads from side to side in a way that would interfere with a rider. Reindeer have been ridden in the past. This video is a montage of daily life in the Soviet Union, in the 70s. Starting from 0:58 you can see two men riding reindeer in the snow. I assume these to be Eastern Sámi, somewhere on the Kola Peninsula.

The Sámi have been taming and herding reindeer for many centuries. But it's rare to see them be ridden. Much more common is for a sled to be attached to a small number of reindeer. I believe this is because a reindeer is somewhat smaller than a horse, so a man sitting on top is quite a load. But your people could maybe overcome this with selective breeding or some kind of handwavium.

Or, your people could be physically smaller of course. There is a scene in Disney's Snow White & the Seven Dwarves, where the Dwarves, having realized that the girl is in danger of being poisoned by the second-most beautiful woman, rush back from the mines on the backs of what look like adolescent roe deer, or possibly fallow deer. But this seems a little far-fetched.

As for your question about advantages over a horse, it would be the climate. Reindeer have a much easier time in the Arctic than a horse would, owing to their wider hooves in the snow, and fur. Horses and reindeer can both swim, but I don't know which is better at swimming. Reindeer are smaller (read: more agile) than horses as well.

This man is riding a reindeer

The picture was taken from here. On this page you can also see the president of Mongolia riding a reindeer.

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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf "In most populations both sexes grow antlers; the reindeer is the only cervid species in which females grow them as well as males.[50] Androgens play an essential role in the antler formation of cervids. The antlerogenic genes in reindeer have more sensitivity to androgens in comparison with other cervids.[51][52]" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reindeer#Antlers $\endgroup$ Sep 23, 2021 at 19:30
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf, both male and female caribou/reindeer have antlers (males larger). $\endgroup$ Sep 23, 2021 at 20:05
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    $\begingroup$ Actually, maybe the possibility of snow is the real reason why the Sámi don't ride the reindeer. The feet would sink in. Perhaps Mongolia has less snow and therefore Mongolians have an easier time riding reindeer $\endgroup$ Sep 25, 2021 at 14:09
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    $\begingroup$ What about their ability to fly? Certainly you're not going to overlook that? Or the 1-in-300 reindeer born with glowing noses... $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Feb 21, 2022 at 14:25
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnO Fact check false - the glowing nose appears to be a unique mutation, not a rare trait. $\endgroup$
    – Jedediah
    Feb 21, 2022 at 15:07
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Horse's hooves are a modified form of the middle toe's nail. This kind of hoof works well on solid ground, but not so well elsewhere.

Reindeer (Europe) or caribou (North America) have cloven hooves that can be flexed. They can spread out to provide a larger surface when walking on soft ground or snow, and on icy surfaces they can dig in and grip much better than a solid hoof. (Caribou and Reindeer Hooves)

So, if the land where your story takes place is soft or snowy, caribou have a definite advantage over horses.

(They are also kosher, so if any of your characters happen to be Jewish, or Rastafarian, or Seventh Day Adventist, or Ethiopian Orthodox, or whatever, that might be an advantage too.)

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