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You have the wild hunt with demons, or faeries, riding antlered stags like horses. Any number of other stories based on that old tale, be it reindeer or creatures designed for fantasy world's.

But what are the practical aspects that you need to take into account? I don't recall any stories mentioning anything.

For example, I've seen many a picture of a stag running through a forest. To avoid getting its antlers stuck in the overhead branches, it throws back its head.

So how do you ride the damn animal without being skewered by your own steed? What do you need to take into account when travelling? Is it just avoid low hung branches ie don't go into the dark forest or are there further aspects I haven't thought of?

An additional related question, how do humanoids with antlers (be they real or just an antlered helmet) fight in enclosed places like tunnels?

As an aside, while Santa has domesticated reindeer with antlers, he does not in fact ride them rather trusting to put a healthy harnessed distance between him, his sleigh and those antlers.

EDIT: Thanks for your all your pointers. It made me redesign and add several things to my storyline. All the answers where helpful but I think the selected answer has to go to the most up-voted answer.

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The Dukha people of Mongolia have mastered the art of doing just that:

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The Dukha lifestyle revolves around the domestication of reindeer, which provide food and transportation. In addition, they hunt with eagles and trained wolves. Not really relevant to the whole reindeer thing, but too bad ass to go without mentioning.

With regards to riding reindeer, they're a different animal than horses and will have different pros and cons. First off, reindeer, and most other forms of deer, are significantly smaller than horses, so they won't be as agile when they're carrying people. However, they're better adapted to life in cold, snowy areas. A reindeer won't have any trouble with snow or cold.

With regards to riding through forests, running a mount quickly through deep brush is a bad idea for any kind of mount. Horses and deer alike are liable to break their legs if they lose their footing in dense brush. Your best bet is not to worry about training the deer to run through forests, but to train the riders to avoid terrain which might be potentially hazardous for their mounts.

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Solving Practical problems:

  1. The spines of antlers are mostly forward-facing for ramming into other bucks, so not a huge problem there. On the off chance there's a few spines pointing in the wrong direction, just cap'em. Big fluffy balls glued on the end, possibly?
  2. The backs of stags/deer/etc. are actually pretty fragile compared to horses, so you'd have to be pretty darn light to be carried by one (or magically made lighter), or breed a deer with a pretty sturdy torso (which would impact the happy bouncy feeling people seem to like from the idea.) This might be able to be addressed by having a saddle that more rested on the buttocks and shoulders than the back.
  3. The jumping... it may look pretty, but chances are it's going to knock you off. A Saddle should probably secure you in, not just be something to sit on.
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    $\begingroup$ Good points, especially about moving and tying into the saddle. Thanks. $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Jun 25 '16 at 18:48
  • $\begingroup$ I've been thinking on you 1st point. I could incorporate some sort of protective chest clothing. eg a thick leather vest or something similar. Just incase the big fluffy balls glued on the end of any backward facing tines fall off! It's won't stop anything with a huge amount of force but should stop any accidental knocks. $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Jun 27 '16 at 21:15
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Looking at horses for example, I believe that they were breed to be stronger which made them capable of being ridden. Likely, in your world, the same would have to be true of your stags/deer. There would likely be a major difference in the wild variety as opposed to the domesticated one when it comes to body structure. Likely, the two could probably still interbreed if the domesticated ones were released or visa versa should the breeder desire to get a certain trait introduced into their herd.

Typically when we see stag/deer mounts, their riders are elven. Elves are typically thought of as much lighter than humans (as if their bones are hollow like birds, by magic, or etc.) and as such would be more suited for riding stags/deer from a weight perspective. Also, elves are often associated with woodlands (which is the preferred habitat for stags/deer) which makes the match easy to understand. The stags/deer are simply a resource that is in their environment. Horses (when wild) are typical of wide open plains which might make them inaccessible to elves. Humans are more typical in those environments as it is more conducive to agriculture than a forest which makes horses the obvious choice for them. With that in mind, any large animal capable of either carrying a rider or of being breed to carry a rider that is native to the area that the sentient race would likely be domesticated for such a purpose (great eagles, sea serpents, imaginary beast you create, etc.)

Elves in most cases are considered to be either immortal (Tolkien derived) or otherwise extremely long lived. As a result of this, a breeder would outlive their deer (if the deer aren't magically immortal as well) and would have the time to breed the herd themselves for several generations to produce the desired mount. Otherwise, it would be a multi-generational job that would likely start out as a domestication project to create a breed that could be used as a "workhorse" until such time as they realized the potential of breeding the beast to act as a mount.

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  • $\begingroup$ That's true about no starting out as riding tools and breeding times. Thanks. $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Jun 25 '16 at 18:49
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You asked for practical aspects, so:

With the exception of reindeer/caribou, female deer do not have antlers. So 50% of your potential mounts present no problem. Hinds are, however, usually smaller than stags, so won't be able to carry as much weight.

Stags shed and regrow their antlers every year. While the antlers are in velvet (regrowing), they are very tender. The deer settle disputes at this time by rearing up and 'boxing' or by a stamping kick with their front hooves. Speculating wildly... there might be certain times of year that stags are really reluctant to charge at your enemies head on, in case they bash those tender antlers on something.

The Swedish Army once experimented with a 'cavalry' contingent of moose riders. Here's why it failed On the plus side, the riders sit far back from the antlers so can't get skewered!

The 'throwing back the head as it runs' thing is deer body language. Stags without antlers and hinds do it too in some species. That posture might be a threat to another deer or a signal to a predator "Hey, I've seen you!". So not necessarily about getting antlers caught in branches.

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  • $\begingroup$ liljoshu's answer made me think up some sort of protective vest for any backward facing tines. But thanks to your reminder about the seasonality of the stags antlers, I realise I can make it a seasonal bit of clothing. like a winter jacket (just as an example), depending on when I decide to make my designed creature shed them! $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Jun 27 '16 at 21:23

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