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Born in the Saddle

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"A Mongol without a horse is like a bird without wings."
— Traditional Mongolian saying

A culture so thoroughly in love with horses, they may as well be centaurs. They fight on horseback, they travel on horseback, they eat on horseback, they sleep on horseback. They probably aren't literally born there, but they'll certainly start learning to ride before they can walk.

Expect a lot of jokes about just how much they love their horses.

Often a Fantasy Counterpart Culture to Turks, the Mongols and/or the Huns, and as such have a distinct tendency to function as Hordes from the East, Barbarian Tribes, and/or Noble Savages. However, as the Rohirrim in The Lord of the Rings demonstrate, they can just as well be a more chivalric and "civilized" culture. Don't be surprised — "chivalry" derives from the French word "chevalier," a horseback rider or knight. Whether or not they're the bad guys, they're sure to be a Proud Warrior Race (you can't get much studying done at a canter, after all).

Usually expert Horse Archers, though tend to be just as good with a sword.

Sometimes the steed of choice will be a Horse of a Different Color, but actual Equus f. caballus seem to be favored for some reason. Compare Born Under the Sail for cultures strongly associated with seafaring instead of horse-riding.

Trope Maker for Knight in Shining Armor.

Often a variant of a Wandering Culture.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Fushigi Yuugi, the characters journey to "Hokkan", which is heavily based on Mongolia. A little boy is having trouble learning how to ride, and Tamahome helps him out.
  • In Golden Kamuy, Kiroroanke has been close to horses since youth, which is not so surprising considering that the Ainu during the Meiji Era had a reputation for being very good horsemen. Not only does he know how to analyze their behavior, but he can also outpace experienced jockeys on a heavier than usual horse, with a horrible head start to boot.
  • Nintama Rantarou: Danzou Katou. His family uses horses in their business, and He's been trained to ride from a very young age.

    Film — Live-Action 

  • Bazil Broketail: The Baguti are horse-riding nomads who live in the Gan region to the west of Argonath. Most indeed learn how to ride before they can even walk. Realistically, they're all bow-legged as a result. Mostly, they live through raiding others, taking slaves they then sell to the Padmasans, herding their horses across the Gan grasslands. Given their culture, the Baguti fights as horse archers or with scimitars, and they are far less effective on foot (Lessis takes full advantage of it when planning an ambush for one band).
  • David Eddings:
    • The Belgariad: The Algar. On rare occasions, they actually have members born to the tribe who can talk to horses. They're also cattlemen; when Hettar mentions his dream of domesticating and/or crossbreeding a type of flesh-eating wild horse, Garion (after noting Hettar can't stand the idea of something equine that he can't ride) points out that it's a bad idea to have horses that see cattle as food when your economy revolves around cattle.
    • The Elenium and The Tamuli feature the Peloi. The men of these nomadic plains tribes learn to master their horses early (one neat trick is they can make their horses kneel somehow) and are consummate light cavalrymen known for slicing up enemy flanks while their horses practically fly past. Kring, the leader of the Peloi of Pelosia, is noted to be bowlegged due to his constant riding.
  • Discworld:
    • The Horse Tribes in The Light Fantastic. They aren't very sentimental about their steeds, though; when your entire culture is based on horses, that includes your diet.
      Cohen explained that the Horse Tribes of the Hubland steppes were born in the saddle, which Rincewind considered was a gynaecological impossibility
    • Averted in one of the ancestors of the Queen of Sto Lat in Mort, who settled down with a speech to the effect of "Just because you're born in the saddle doesn't mean you have to die in it".
  • Heralds of Valdemar: The Shin'a'in are a horse culture inspired by both Mongolian nomads and Native Americans from the Plains. Taking a tame but unbroken horse and training it is a rite of passage for children under ten. The clans travel throughout the year with their herds and sell the "culls" to outlanders, who are eager to take them. Horses of Shin'a'in breeding are thought of as the swiftest, smartest, and most beautiful in the world.
    • The Heralds themselves are chosen from all walks of life but become this after rigorous training (though their mounts are intelligent spirits in horse-like physical bodies). When Talia is brought to the Heralds' Collegium, her equestrian instructor Keren informs the girl that "by the time I'm done with you, anything you can do afoot, you'll be able to do from the back of your Companion." Later in the trilogy, that same instructor manages to slingshot into a dive from the back of her Companion in full gallop. Said one of the other Heralds, "I didn't know you could do that!"
  • House Of Kendreth (begins with Red Moon and Black Mountain, then The Grey Mane of Morning and When Voiha Wakes), by Joy Chant, has the Khentorei. They call their mounts horses, but they're what we would call unicorns. Huge, massive, shaggy ones.
  • Safehold: Desnairans wear it proudly as their hat, although how much of it is true is debatable. The commander of force "allied" with them loves to mock it. Of course Desnairan will ride a horse like he's born in it, of course he'll launch grand charges, of course he's the "most best" horse rider in the world... Only it doesn't help much when the enemy is armed with muzzle-loaded rifles. It didn't do much good running into a line of Siddarmarkian pikes in the old days, either — the general implication is that it is only really the Desnairan nobility which is like this.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: The Dothraki live and breathe horses and don't let you forget about it. They worship horse-gods, and talk about practically everything in terms of equine metaphors. And changing the word from Khan to Khal isn't fooling anyone, either. They even refer to what we call "doggy-style" as "horse-fashion", and most will have sex in no other way. Their Chosen One is called "The Stallion Who Mounts The World".
  • Tolkien's Legendarium has probably the most famous European-based examples:
    • The people of Rohan in The Lord of the Rings are justly famous for their horsemanship, to the point where pretty much their entire military consists of Middle-Earth's finest cavalry. They are even capable of making a frontal cavalry charge, the ultimate fantasy of any army who has a cavalry, work. In fact, the very name of the Rohirrim people themselves means "Horse-lords" in Sindarin.
    • While the Númenorëans' culture wasn't anywhere near as horse-reliant as the Rohirrim's, The Silmarillion notes that they were the greatest horsemen of the Second Age, to the point where they could even call on horses telepathically. Part of the reason for their lack of cavalry was, funnily, their size: Númenorëans are on the whole taller than most humans, and proportionally heavier, which means most horses would have issues bearing one in battle.
  • The Tough Guide to Fantasyland: "The Anglo-Saxon Cossack barbarians are horse breeders who live on the steppes. Expert riders, they show off with riding tricks and make great cavalry on the Good side. Despite this, they will never have bandy legs. Strangely enough, in spite of their nomadic life they are found living in stone fastnesses and only use tents rarely."
  • The Traitor Son Cycle: The Vardariotes are their world's Mongol Expies, with all this brings. They're all experts on horses, provide the best mounts in the setting and have no infantry units.
  • The Wheel of Time: This is the Saldaeans' hat. At one point a legion of them parade across a plain doing tricks — riding two horses at once with one foot on either saddle, slapping the ground in passing while dangling precariously from the saddle, or climbing underneath the horse and up the other side, all while at a full gallop.
  • The Witches of Eileanan: The people of the MacAhern clan aren't called "the Horse Lairds" for nothing. They ride winged horses; supposedly, you have to stay on one for an entire year, day and night, doing everything in the saddle, before the horse will accept you.

    Live-Action Television 
  • Game of Thrones: The Dothraki live and breathe horses just like in the book series.
    • House of the Dragon: The Targaryen dynasty has a strong bond with dragons and they ride them starting in childhood (for that matter, the dragons are equipped with saddles), first seen in the series with Rhaenyra and Syrax. This would become lost once the dragons would become extinct several decades later, though the practice would resurrect with Daenerys in Game of Thrones.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Eberron: The Valenar elves. The Halflings of the Talenta Plains also, although they use dinosaurs for mounts.
    • In Gazetteer 12, The Golden Khan of Ethengar describes the Ethengar tribesmen (who are based on the Real Life Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan) this way. Children start riding at the age of three.
    • In Ravenloft, the people of Nova Vaasa track their origins to nomads Born in the Saddle, and are still renowned as the Core's best horsemen and horse-breeders. Actually an aversion, as this is "false history"; like most Core realms, Nova Vaasa was created out of whole cloth, backstory included, by the Dark Powers.
    • Forgotten Realms: The Tuigan, being the setting's version of the Mongol hordes, have whole armies of horsemen warriors.
  • Exalted: The Marukan Alliance consists of this, with a bit of cowboy thrown in for good measure. They worship a horse god (who sires some of their steeds), their national militia doubles up as a postal service, and they often serve as elite cavalry for the nearby city-state of Lookshy.
  • Legend of the Five Rings: The Unicorn Clan is Rokugan's definitive example, since its culture is largely inspired by the Mongols'. A Unicorn samurai gets combat bonuses when on horseback, and in earlier versions, being on horseback gives bonuses to *all* rolls.
  • Warhammer has several variations on this:
    • The nomadic Kurgan (fantasy Scythians) and Hung (fantasy Mongols) of the Northern Wastes, who are widely considered the greatest horsemen in the world. (That's right, the Hung like horses.)
    • The people of Kislev, the Ungols and the Gospodars, have long traditions of horsemanship and originated from two different groups of steppe nomads that eventually settled into agricultural life. Although they're not quite as formidable as their Kurgan cousins, they still produce extremely formidable horse archers (in the Ungols' case) and heavy knights (in the Gospodars').
    • The people of the duchy of Couronne in Bretonnia. All Bretonnian nobles love horses, but these guys take it to extremes; they never walk if they can ride instead, and take immense pride in owning the finest horses possible. Rumor has it that Couronnian women have tried to take this trope to its literal extreme, but giving birth in the saddle is actually impossible. Couronne is also the only place in Bretonnia where non-nobles are allowed to ride.
    • The High Elves of Ellyrion live and breathe horses. Their land is home to large herds of wild horses, which the Ellyrian elves tame with magic, and Ellyrion produces the finest mounted troops in Ulthuan. It's said that Ellyrians can ride before they can walk, and they are in fact paired with their personal steeds when both elf and horse and very young. They're also insanely protective of their steeds, and killing an Ellyrian's horse is a good way of getting yourself lynched; it's a common saying among other Elves that it's better to harm an Ellyrian's brother than his horse. Dark Elf raiders often attack Ellyrion to steal wild horses for their own herds, something the Ellyrians resist viciously — few crimes are more appallingly vile to the Horsemasters of Ellyrion than horse theft (and considerably worse is that the Dark Elves viciously abuse and torture the horses they steal into cavalry).
    • The Hobgoblins rule a vast nomadic khanate in the East, although in their case the mounts they do everything on are wolves.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The barbaric Atillan Rough Riders supply some of the most celebrated cavalry regiments of the Imperial Guard (Mogul Kamir even has a literal Automaton Horse). The denizens of the planet Chogoris have a similar mounted culture, though if they're found worthy of joining the White Scars space marine chapter they'll exchange their horse for an armored motorcycle.
    • Space Wolves replace horses with tank-sized wolves.

    Video Games 
  • Age of Empires II: The Huns and the Mongols have faction bonuses that emphasis in this, and both have cavalry units as their unique units. The Huns don't need to build houses and immediately have a their total population. The Mongols still build houses, but won't lose their population if they get destroyed.
    "Sleep in the saddle. Drink the rain. Eat nothing but dried meat, dried milk, and horse blood. Such is the life of a Mongol at war."
  • Civilization: True to their real-life reputation, the Mongols tend to get a powerful mounted Unique Unit in the early game.
  • Crusader Kings: In Crusader Kings II, the DLC "The Horse Lords" allows play as the leaders of nomadic horse-riding hordes, most notably the Mongols.
  • Fire Emblem:
  • Mount & Blade: The Khergit Khanate. Other than the basic recruits, every soldier on their troop roster is mounted, and most are equally proficient with bow and blade. They even quote the page name in an unused sound clip.
  • Total War:
    • The Mongols in Shogun: Total War and Medieval II: Total War, as par the course. The Timurids in the latter's late game one up-them by also having War Elephants units, some of them with primitive cannon and rocket launchers.
    • The Takeda clan in Total War: Shogun 2. Lampshaded when the clan's announcer name-drops the Trope in their opening. Subverted in real life, as per the Real Life entry below.
    • Total War: Rome II: The Nomadic Tribes DLC features three Scythian tribes whose primary strengths are cavalry units.
    • Total War: Attila: The Huns, Avars, and White Huns, as well as the other "Horde" factions, all fit this. The Alans as well; while not committed to the nomadic lifestyle, they've got an even more horse-focused army list and faction bonus.

    Web Original 
  • Bosun's Journal: The riderfolk and mountpeople are an unusual example in that both parties involved are sapient, and live in a symbiotic relationship — which makes this a rare case where the riders are as culturally important to the steeds as the steeds are to the riders. The physically weak riderfolk pair up with the stronger but handless mountpeople in adolescence, form a permanent bond afterwards, and travel in their rider-steed pair for most of their lives; their coming-of-age ceremony involves the pair crafting their first saddle, swearing an oath of partnership, and riding off into the plains as fast as they can go. One of their descendant species, the doubletaurs, eventually become true symbiotes, attached to the point of sharing their circulatory systems.
  • Codex Inversus: The elves of the Ash Khanate lead a perpetually nomadic existence, crossing their ashen plains with their herds of horses, sheep, and yaks along preset routes that they have observed for a millennium. Their endless migrations are designed to act as an immense, perpetual ritual, drawing in and preserving ghosts that would otherwise fade into nothingness in a world without an afterlife.
  • The Gamer's Alliance: The Khitans from the Khitan Khanate in Maar Sul are expert riders who are skilled in the use of both the bow and the sword. They bond with their horses at an early age and see them as their brothers and sisters.

    Real Life 
  • It's said that a Mongolian man wasn't much of a man if he didn't have a horse.
    • The modern Mongolian language has 400 words for different colours of horse, which is useful as they don't give them individual names.
    • There's a second half to that saying depending on where you go; that though a Mongolian man without a horse is half a man, a Mongolian man with a horse is worth two.
  • Medieval knights. Their name in most languages (caballero, chevalier, cavalheiro, Ritter, riddare etc) refers to "rider" or "horseman". They learned and practiced horseback skills in their early childhood, and a medieval proverb was "a boy who hasn't mastered a horse by the age of 12 is fit only to be a priest". Most medieval noblewomen were just as proficient with horses as their brothers, and rode astride—while women have been riding either astride or aside in regular saddles for a long time, the modern type of side-saddle is a Renaissance innovation.
  • Juan-Juan (a.k.a. the Rourans), Xiongnu, Khitans, basically anyone living north/northwest of the Chinese Empire were almost always predominantly proud horse people. Their raids proved destructive for much of Chinese history, giving rise to a massive linked system of forts and walls that eventually became the Great Wall.
    • The Manchu and their ancestors, the Jurchen, downplayed this as while they did have a strong horse culture, they were more sedentary than nomadic.
  • The Takeda clan of the Sengoku Period of Japan, despite their fame as horsemen, (to the point where they were nicknamed the "the mobile army"), subvert this a bit. Their cavalry did not make up a major part of their army, but was still widely feared because of them (right up until they were crushed at the Battle of Nagashino)
  • Tibetans were nomads that were historically known for their horseback riding along with their Horse Archery. In fact, it was mostly their horseback riding that allowed them to establish an empire that rivaled the Tang dynasty and had one of the most feared cavalry troops in central Asia (more infamously, Tibetan cavalrymen wore heavy armor that rivaled the durability of a medieval European knight's armor to the point of deflecting arrow shots). Much of their horse culture died down when Buddhism was introduced in Tibet and many Tibetans abandoned the horseback lifestyle for an established religious culture, but much of the Tibetan nomadic lifestyle (from horseback to archery) is still present today in some degree.
  • Turks and Turkic people. Part of the reason why Greeks used to be so angry with the Turkish people (apart from invading Greece) was the fact that the Eastern Roman/Byzantine Empire (which was predominantly Greek) fell to a people that initially were horse nomads.
  • The Scythian people, whose reputation saw huge numbers of them serving as cavalrymen to many Greek and Persian kingdoms during the classical era. It is theorized that the Scythians were one of the first, if not the first groups of people to actually ride on horseback with regularity, with previous nomadic peoples utilizing chariots. This theory has in turn been used as an explanation for why the Scythians were considered so dangerous by the settled peoples of the Near East and Europe, as their completely mobile form of warfare was a huge challenge for the infantry- and chariot-based armies of the settled societies to overcome.
    • The Parni, a Scythian offshoot people (probably), went one better by invading and conquering Parthia in central Persia when it was under the control of the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire, renaming themselves 'Parthians' after the territory and settling down, allying their nomadic military tradition of mass cavalry forces made up of heavy noble lancers and light mounted archers to Persian political, economic and legal practices. This proved devastatingly effective against the Roman Republic's primarily infantry-based army at the Battle of Carrhae and continued to be so to lesser or greater degrees in the next centuries, placing them in the very small group of peoples that managed to definitively halt Roman expansion by beating them in warfare.
  • Rivals of the Scythians in the plains of Eurasia, the Sauromatae/Sarmatian people also had quite a reputation as horsemen, enough that the Romans employed boatloads of them for their cavalry, promising Roman citizenship in return for their services.
    • Some historians think that the original King Arthur was a Roman-Sarmatian cavalry officer. The nobility of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (themselves renowned for the quality of their cavalry, but not quite to the extent of this trope) also believed themselves to be descended from the Sarmatians, and this view had a major influence on their culture.
  • The Cossacks of Ukraine and Southern Russia could allegedly ride a horse at the age of 3.
    • Historically, Georgians as well, particularly those from the mountains, to the point where they supposedly had the best cavalry in Eastern Europe. It still survives in many areas, though war, migration to cities, and economic hardship has made horsemanship less universal.
  • The Lakota, Dakota, Cheyenne, Absaroka, Kiowa, and many other First Nations of the Great Plains of North America. Compared to the Eurasian horse nomads, they spent much of history not having any horses until the 1600s when the Apache became the first to learn how to ride Iberian mustangs stolen from the Spaniards. Herds of horses dispersed and multiplied throughout the plains, spreading to other tribes who became great hunters and cavalrymen in their own right.
    • The Comanche Nation, for their part, were so devoted to the horse as a way of life that they put every other nation on the Great Plains to shame. While the other tribes that were embracing horses merely used them as a means of transportation and source of food, riding to battle and then dismounting for the actual fighting, the Comanche and their Kiowa allies were the only tribes that learned how to do all their fighting from the saddle. Crucially, the Comanche were also the only tribe to master horse breeding, and they became experts at both stealing horses and capturing them in the wild. They possessed huge numbers of horses, and a Comanche warrior might have 100-200 mounts. Their children were given their own horses and taught to ride starting at the age of four or five, and they were expected to learn riding tricks that would eventually help them in hunting and warfare, as well as using the bow, lance, shield, and musket from horseback. The Comanche were so dangerous in plains warfare that by about 1870 they were more responsible than any other tribe for holding up white settlement of the American West.
  • The Huns. Attila the Hun is said to have learnt to ride before he could walk. Indeed, it is hard to refer to the Huns as anything besides this trope, as little from their nomadic culture has survived and sources referring to them come from different people than them entirely which inherently puts the full truth of the sources in doubt.
  • Though not much of a national or ethnic entity, American cowboys often view themselves this way.
  • The Hungarians (a.k.a. Magyars) were one of the few European peoples to have a horse culture along with Horse Archery, which is justified since the Magyars spent most of their history with the Turkish people and adapted a horseback lifestyle. When the Hungarians conquered Moravia, the Hungarians settled, abandoned most of their nomadic horseback culture, and adopted Christianity, but some of it is still seen today.
  • Many industrialized societies have more modern traditions regarding cars, except in some urban communities where public transportation is king. Training doesn't start as early as it does in Born in the Saddle societies (most kids learn to drive as teenagers), but driver's education is taught by many public schools and a myriad of private programs, and getting your driver's license is considered a Rite of Passage for many teens. Many people in rural areas do much of their "getting around" in cars, and true to this trope, eating and sleeping on the road is commonplace—though hopefully not in the driver's seat! If nothing else, cars certainly have massive cultural significance in industrialized countries; just check out all the countless Car Tropes for more details.
    • Most Finns learn to drive either moped, motorcycle, or automobile before they are 12. Justified, as Finland is a country of long distances. It is legal to participate in car races in Finland (so-called "folkrace") younger (14) than you can legally drive on the roads (18). Keep on mind that almost all cars in Finland have manual transmission...
  • Central Asians, especially Kazakhs and Kyrgyz, with archaeological, palaeological and DNA discoveries suggesting the horse was most likely first tamed and domesticated in Central Asia. They even eat a lot of horse meat, but never the ones they ride on.
  • Celts were famous for their horsemanship to the Romans and were used as horseman cavalry and mercenaries by the Romans. This is largely a Forgotten Trope on behalf of the Celts - as their Druids tended to overshadow the Cavalry in pop culture.