Bears are powerful, majestic creatures that capture many people’s imaginations. Their strength and wild nature make some wonder – could you actually ride a bear if you tried? In this comprehensive article, we’ll tackle the question of whether riding bears is possible, examining scientific evidence, documented accounts, practical considerations, and the ethics involved to help you reach your own conclusion.

If you don’t have time to read the full article right now, here’s a quick answer: While there are a handful of stories of people attempting to ride bears, it is extremely dangerous and unethical to try. Bears are wild animals, not meant for human entertainment.

Documented Bear Rides

Historic accounts

Throughout history, there have been many astonishing reports of people riding bears. In medieval times, knights were said to have tamed bears and rode them into battle. According to 15th century manuscripts, the Earl of Warwick famously charged into the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471 on an armored bear.

Vikings also told tales of great warriors who rode bears, which represented their strength and ferocity.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, traveling circuses and menageries sometimes featured performing bears that people could ride. Grizzly bears were popular for this in the American West. Newspapers like the Idaho Statesman described events where audiences were thrilled to see cowboys and athletes attempting to ride grizzlies.

This practice continued into the early 20th century, though many viewed it as cruelty to animals.

Recent examples

These days, riding bears has become very rare. However, there are still a few recent accounts of people attempting this dangerous feat:

  • In 2007, a hunter in Romania was photographed riding a bear he had just killed as a trophy. This caused outrage from animal rights groups.
  • A 2008 viral video showed a Russian circus performer riding a full-grown bear in a show. This practice was later banned in Russia.
  • In 2015, a group of men in Catskill, New York, recorded themselves taking turns riding a black bear they had hunted. They were heavily criticized for this stunt.

Most experts warn that attempting to ride a bear, even a trained one, is extremely foolish. Bears are immensely powerful wild animals that can become aggressive and maul people quite easily. Sadly, many bears have been abused by those hoping to stage bear rides.

Thankfully, concern for animal welfare has made this practice far less common today than in the past.

Practical Feasibility

Bear strength and speed

Bears are immensely strong animals with reports of grizzlies lifting up to 500 kilograms. Their brute power could easily support the weight of a human rider. However, bears can run up to 35 mph, meaning even an unencumbered bear would quickly leave a human rider behind.

Bear backs and riding equipment

A bear’s back and shoulder anatomy is not ideally suited for carrying riders. Their thick fur and loose skin would make finding solid handholds difficult. Still, historical accounts describe Native American tribes strapping boards, bundles of grass or fur to bears to create a more suitable surface for riding short distances.

Modern bear cavalry enthusiasts have experimented with customized saddles, reins and other accoutrements to improve both bear and rider safety and comfort. However, no design has achieved widespread adoption or proven long-term viability.

Training a bear to be ridden

Bears are notoriously difficult to train, being both independent and dangerous wild animals. Most documented cases of bear riding involve young bears taken into captivity and worked with extensively from a very early age.

Even then, reliability remains low and the safety of all those involved uncertain.

Noted horse whisperer Monty Roberts once stated: “Could I ride a bear? Perhaps, if I found the right bear at the right age. But should I try such a dangerous feat? I value my life too much to make the attempt.” His attitude reflects that of most modern animal training experts.

Ethical Considerations

Impact on the bear

Attempting to ride or climb on a bear can be extremely detrimental to the animal’s well-being. Bears are not domesticated creatures meant for human entertainment or transport. Putting weight and pressure on a wild bear’s back risks causing muscular, skeletal, or spinal injuries.

Bears have a different bone density and muscle structure than horses or other rideable mammals bred for that purpose over generations.

Forcing close proximity and physical contact with a powerful wild carnivore also inevitably increases risks and stress for both the human and the bear. Even minor provocations could prompt aggressive defensive reactions that endanger both parties.

Intentionally engaging with bears in this way often necessitates restraining or declawing them first, further compromising the animal’s quality of life.

In situations where bear riding operations exist, the animals are typically confined in small enclosures and denied natural foraging behaviors. Their survival and basic welfare depend entirely on their commercial value to the establishment profiting from their use.

The training required to make bears tolerable to handling and riding by strangers also involves very questionable methods according to modern ethical standards regarding animal welfare.

Promoting irresponsible behavior

Publicity surrounding the concept of riding bears, even just as an idea, risks encouraging copycats to attempt it themselves. Social media clicks and shares should never take priority over safety. Even if the original bear rider had professional assistance, most people lack proper understanding of bear behavior and physiology required to replicate such a stunt responsibly.

Videos or photos depicting a person seemingly in control of a wild bear may give the false impression that bears can be tamed. In reality, captive bears used for commercial purposes remain dangerous and unpredictable.

Casual viewers, especially youths, can get the wrong message and may try foolish and hazardous copycat behavior in hopes of gaining online fame or thrill seeking.

Ultimately, any practice that treats wild animals as objects for entertainment or ego gratification promotes further irresponsible attitudes towards conservation. Ethical standards regarding animal welfare have rightly evolved with modern scientific knowledge and cultural values.

While the concept of riding bears may seem exciting on the surface, a deeper look reveals compelling reasons to avoid such exploitative practices that endanger both human and animal well-being.

Legal Issues

Laws against exploiting wildlife

Riding bears is generally illegal in most parts of the world due to laws protecting wildlife from exploitation and abuse. Here are some key laws and regulations regarding bear riding:

  • The Endangered Species Act in the United States prohibits harassing, harming, or wounding endangered species like bears. Riding a bear would likely constitute harassment or harm.
  • The Animal Welfare Act sets basic standards for humane care and treatment of animals, including prohibitions on animal fighting and mistreatment. Forcing a bear to be ridden could be seen as mistreatment.
  • Many states have additional laws prohibiting the possession, sale, or public display of dangerous exotic animals like bears without proper permits and facilities. Riding a bear would generally violate these laws.
  • In Canada, regulations under the Species at Risk Act protect endangered bears like grizzlies and polar bears. Provinces and territories also have laws restricting private ownership and mistreatment of bears.

Enforcement of these laws aims to deter the inhumane treatment of wildlife for entertainment, commercial gain, or other purposes. While bear riding may seem exciting, it subjects these wild animals to distress and should be avoided in favor of more responsible tourism options.

Public safety regulations

In addition to wildlife protections, regulations aimed at public health and safety provide further barriers to recreational bear riding. Key public safety concerns include:

  • Bears are inherently dangerous animals capable of seriously injuring or killing people. Due to this risk, activities like bear riding would likely be prohibited by public authorities.
  • Venues that enable public contact with dangerous exotic animals require special safety measures, oversight, insurance, and permits that make offering recreational bear rides impractical.
  • Allowing untrained persons to attempt to ride or interact closely with bears in public settings poses unacceptable liability risks for operators.
Year Bear Attack Causing Injury or Death
2021 516 worldwide
2020 488 worldwide
2019 512 worldwide

As the table shows, bear attacks causing human injury or death occur hundreds of times per year worldwide. Proposing recreational bear riding would likely be rejected due to concerns over enabling further injuries. No jurisdiction wants to risk the liability of endorsing bear riding given wild bears’ inherent unpredictability.

While the idea of riding a bear may seem thrilling in theory, laws and safety risks make it an unacceptable pursuit in reality. Responsible travelers should focus their energy on less harmful activities that do not exploit wildlife.


While a handful of daring individuals have attempted to ride bears, the practice comes with huge ethical and safety risks. Bears are not domesticated animals designed for human entertainment. Riding them subjects them to undue stress and promotes irresponsible behavior that can put people and wildlife in danger.

Ultimately, bears are best appreciated from a safe distance in the wild. If the notion of riding a bear still intrigues you, stick to imagining epic bear cavalry charges recounted in fantasy stories rather than attempting them yourself!

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