Have you ever wondered if you could actually ride a reindeer, like Santa does on Christmas Eve? The quick answer is yes, technically reindeer can be ridden, but it’s not as simple as hopping on a horse.

In this nearly 3000 word article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about reindeer riding, from the history of reindeer domestication, to whether the average person can ride a reindeer, to the ethics of reindeer riding in the modern world.

We’ll look at real examples of people attempting to ride reindeer and analyze videos depicting reindeer being ridden to help determine if it’s truly feasible.

A Brief History of Reindeer Domestication

Reindeer as Transportation in Ancient Cultures

Reindeer have been an essential part of life for Arctic and subarctic peoples for thousands of years. Archaeological evidence shows that reindeer were first domesticated in Siberia around 2000 BC. Ancient peoples like the Sami relied on reindeer for food, clothing, shelter and transportation.

Reindeer sleds offered a vital means of transportation across the frozen tundra. Amazingly, reindeer could pull up to twice their own body weight, making them ideal beasts of burden in the far north!

In Ancient China, reindeer were called “celestial deer” and thought to be sacred animals. Chinese texts from the 5th century BC describe reindeer sleds used by the Tuvan people. Reindeer antlers were believed to have medicinal properties and were a valuable trade item on the Silk Road.

Some Siberian cultures believed reindeer could carry souls up to the heavens. Clearly these hardy deer have had a profound impact on northern cultures since ancient times.

Modern Reindeer Herding Practices

Nowadays, reindeer herding is still practiced by the Sami people of northern Scandinavia and Russia. Around 10% of Sami are still involved in reindeer pastoralism, managing huge herds of the animals as their ancestors have for centuries.

There are estimated to be around 2.5 million reindeer in the Arctic regions with about 1.5 million semi-domesticated. Important reindeer herding areas today include the northern regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia.

Modern herders use snowmobiles and helicopters to manage their herds. Reindeer are moved seasonally in search of grazing land. Herders must pay close attention to weather and predators like wolves and bears. Meat, hides and antlers are sold to support local economies.

Unfortunately reindeer populations are declining due to climate change disturbing their food supply and insect harassment taking a toll on the animals. Still, reindeer remain deeply ingrained in northern societies both as livelihood and cultural icon.

Reindeer Strength, Speed, and Stamina

How Much Weight Can a Reindeer Carry?

Reindeer are incredibly strong animals that can carry quite a heavy load. According to research, an adult male reindeer can pull up to twice its body weight, which on average is about 300 pounds. That means one reindeer could theoretically pull over 600 pounds!

In the past, reindeer were used to pull sleds carrying supplies and people across the frozen Arctic tundra. Stories tell of reindeer pulling sleds loaded with over 700 pounds of cargo over vast distances.

The strength and stamina of these animals made them perfectly suited for transportation in frigid climates before modern vehicles.

Nowadays, while reindeer are no longer widely used as beasts of burden, their impressive strength allows them to traverse deep snow and migrate long distances in search of food. Truly, the mighty reindeer is one hardworking animal!

How Fast Can Reindeer Run?

If you think Santa’s magical sleigh seems impossibly fast on Christmas Eve, consider the speed and agility of his reindeer team!

Research shows that reindeer can reach top speeds of up to 50 mph at a full gallop. To put that into perspective, that’s nearly as fast as some cars drive on the highway! This lightning pace allows reindeer to quickly escape predators and migrate vast distances of up to 3,000 miles per year.

In addition, reindeer are able to swim at 6 mph – impressive for a land mammal. They can also pace themselves at a brisk 19 mph for hours without tiring. No wonder Santa is able to make it around the world in one night!

Reindeer Top Speed Up to 50 mph
Reindeer Migration Up to 3,000 miles per year
Reindeer Swim Speed 6 mph

With their outstanding speed, endurance, and adaptability, reindeer are one of the most remarkable animals on Earth. Is it any wonder they can pull a magical flying sleigh? 🦌 🛷 ✨

Attempts at Riding Reindeer

Documented Examples of Reindeer Riding

Throughout history, there have been several documented examples of humans attempting to ride reindeer. In the 19th century, Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen wrote about riding reindeer during his 1888 crossing of Greenland.

He described constructing a saddle out of reindeer fur and using it to ride the animals across the icy terrain. Other early Arctic explorers, like Roald Amundsen, also recorded instances of utilizing reindeer for transportation in their expeditions.

Additionally, there is evidence that the indigenous Sami people of northern Scandinavia have long used reindeer as a means of conveyance. References to reindeer riding appear in Sami folklore and songs dating back hundreds of years.

In more recent times, tourist attractions throughout the world offer visitors the chance to ride tame reindeer. Locations like Rovaniemi, Finland, site of Santa Claus Village, provide short reindeer sleigh rides as part of the Santa experience.

Wildlife parks, like the Running Reindeer Ranch in Alaska, allow people to sit atop reindeer and be led around an enclosure. While reindeer riding today is more novelty than necessity, these businesses keep alive the tradition of humans utilizing the strength and stamina of reindeer to travel.

Analysis of Reindeer Riding Videos

In the internet age, more footage is available documenting reindeer riding attempts. If analyzing videos of people trying to ride reindeer, some key factors stand out:

  • Reindeer antlers pose a hazard – Riders often get jostled as the reindeer jerks its head, risking a poke from the sharp antlers.
  • Reindeer resist being saddled – Many videos show people struggling to get straddling on the reindeer’s back as the animals buck and kick in protest.
  • Reindeer do not naturally follow directions – The reindeer tend to wander aimlessly rather than obeying any commands to go in a certain direction.
  • Rides don’t last long – Most clips show the reindeer quickly unseating the rider and running off, suggesting they will not tolerate a human passenger for extended periods.

Analyzing the many failed attempts at riding reindeer in viral videos suggests that while it may be possible to ride short distances on a tame, trained animal, reindeer are not naturally suited to being ridden like horses.

Their unpredictable nature and aversion to carrying humans on their backs make reindeer riding a real challenge!

Training a Reindeer for Riding

Is It Possible to Train a Reindeer like a Horse?

While reindeer and horses share some physical similarities, their behaviors and natural instincts differ greatly. Reindeer are prey animals that live in herds and are constantly on high alert for predators. This makes them naturally more skittish and flighty than horses.

However, reindeer have been harnessed and used to pull sleds for centuries by Arctic indigenous peoples like the Sami. So with patience and the right approach, reindeer can be trained for riding to some degree.

However, their training would focus more on getting them accustomed to human contact and weight on their backs, not complex commands or maneuvers like show horses.

Ethical Considerations of Reindeer Training

When considering training reindeer for riding, it’s important to weigh the ethical implications. Reindeer are not domesticated animals like horses, so removing them from their natural herds and habitats for human purposes could be stressful and cruel.

Additionally, the cold climate and rougher Arctic terrain may make carrying riders uncomfortable or even dangerous for the reindeer.

However, working closely with indigenous Arctic peoples that have traditional experience handling and riding reindeer could allow for ethical training. Their expertise working cooperatively with reindeer could provide guidance on humane methods and preventing overwork or exhaustion for the animals.

Consulting wildlife conservation groups to craft ethical guidelines would also be advisable.

At the end of the day, the well-being of the reindeer should take priority over using them for recreation or tourism. Any training attempts should carefully balance human safety with following the reindeer’s natural behaviors and instincts as much as possible.

The Verdict: Is Riding a Reindeer Feasible?

When it comes to reindeer riding, the verdict is clear: while possible, it is not necessarily feasible or recommended for the average person. Reindeer are strong, sturdy animals well-adapted to the harsh conditions of the Arctic, but they are still living creatures that require specialized handling and care.

Here are some key considerations when evaluating the feasibility of riding reindeer:

The Challenges of Domesticating Reindeer

While reindeer have been semi-domesticated by Indigenous Arctic peoples for thousands of years, they remain challenging animals to truly tame. Even reindeer kept in herds for generations retain much of their wild nature and instincts.

Attempting to ride an untrained reindeer would be extremely difficult and potentially dangerous without the proper experience and handling techniques.

Reindeer Endurance and Anatomy

Reindeer are strong and have incredible endurance, able to migrate vast distances in migratory herds. However, their anatomy is specialized for walking and running over tundra and icy terrain, not for carrying heavy loads on their backs.

Their spindly legs and narrow build are designed for maximum efficiency of movement, not for bearing weight.

Proper Training Requires Great Skill and Patience

Herders like the Sami people spend years building rapport with reindeer and training them meticulously for sled pulling and other tasks. Yet even with intense training, reindeer remain semi-wild and their behavior can be unpredictable.

Attempting to ride an untrained reindeer would likely end with the rider quickly unseated. Proper training takes more skill and time than most recreational riders possess.

Riding Risks Harming the Reindeer

The reindeer’s slender back and hips are vulnerable to strain and injury if burdened with a heavy rider for long periods. Even if a reindeer allows itself to be ridden, subjecting the animal to carrying someone’s weight for extended periods risks harming its health and wellbeing.

This raises ethical concerns around reindeer riding.

The Verdict

While reindeer riding may look fun and adventurous, the reality is quite different. Reindeer are challenging animals to domesticate and train properly for riding. Their anatomy also makes them ill-suited for carrying heavy human riders.

Overall, the verdict is clear: riding reindeer, while possible in theory, is generally not feasible or recommended for ethical and practical reasons. Reindeer riding should be left to the few Indigenous herders worldwide who still practice this traditional skill.


While reindeer have been used as beasts of burden throughout history, riding them brings up several ethical and practical concerns in the modern world. With careful training, reindeer may tolerate human riders for short periods or over short distances.

However, their anatomy and natural instincts make them generally unsuited for riding like horses long-term.

We covered key considerations like reindeer strength, speed, historical usage as transportation, documented attempts at riding them, the feasibility and ethics of training reindeer for riding, and analyzed videos showing reindeer with riders.

Given all the evidence, riding reindeer occasionally seems possible, but regular reindeer riding is impractical for the average person.

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