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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
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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 Central Asians, 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).

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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 favoured 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.


Examples:

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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.
  • Danzou Katou from Nintama Rantarou. His family uses horses in their business, and He's been trained to ride from a very young age.
  • In Golden Kamuy, Kiroroanke has been close to horses since youth. 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 headstart.

    Film 

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    Literature 
  • 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. 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.
  • The Dothraki in A Song of Ice and Fire 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.
  • Desnairans of Safehold 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.
  • 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".
  • The Anglo-Saxon Cossacks of The Tough Guide To Fantasy Land. Since the Fantasyland horse is actually a vegetable, the Anglo-Saxon Cossacks are the only people who know the secret of its cultivation.
  • The Algar from The Belgariad. On rare occasion, 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.
  • David Eddings' other pair of series, 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.
  • The MacAhern clan from the The Witches Of Eileanan, who 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.
  • On Gor the Wagon Peoples, natives of the Tahari region, and Red Savages are all described like this at one point.
  • In Helm, the Rootless clans.
  • The Shin'a'in in the Heralds of Valdemar series, and the Heralds themselves 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!"
  • In 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.
  • Joy Chant's world of Vandarei, which she's been developing since she was a toddler, has the Khentorei. They call their mounts horses, but they're what we would call unicorns. Huge, massive, shaggy ones.
  • The Vardariotes from The Traitor Son Cycle 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.

    Music 

    Radio 

  • Our Miss Brooks: Tex Barton, teenaged cowboy, in a couple of radio episodes.

    Tabletop Games 

  • Basic Dungeons & Dragons, Gazetteer 12 The Golden Khan of Ethengar. The Ethengar tribesmen (who are based on the Real Life Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan) are described this way. Children start riding at the age of three.
  • The Unicorn Clan of Legend of the Five Rings are Rokugan's definitive example, since their 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.
  • The Valenar elves of Eberron. The Halflings of the Talenta Plains also, though they use dinosaurs for mounts.
  • The people of Nova Vaasa, in the Ravenloft setting, 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.
  • Warhammer has several variations on this:
    • The nomadic Kurgan and Hung of the Northern Wastes, who are widely considered the greatest horsemen in the world. (That's right, the Hung like horses.)
    • The Ungols of Kislev, although not quite as formidable as their Kurgan cousins.
    • The people of the duchy of Couronne in Bretonnia. All Bretonnian nobles love horses, but these guys take it to extremes. Couronne is also the only place in Bretonnia where non-nobles are allowed to ride.
    • Hobgoblins in the East, although in their case it's 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.
  • In 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.

    Video Games 

  • The Sacaean Nomads in Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade and The Blazing Blade are a culture of mounted horsemen.
  • The Khergit Khanate in the original Mount & Blade. 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.
  • True to their real-life reputation, the Mongols in the Civilization series tend to get a powerful mounted Unique Unit in the early game.
  • The Crusader Kings II DLC "The Horse Lords" allows play as the leaders of nomadic horse-riding hordes, most notably the Mongols.
  • 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 the White Huns, as well as the other "Horde" factions.

    Web Original 

  • In 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 is said that 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 - the side saddle is actually 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 Sengoku 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)
  • The 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 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 Scythian people, whose reputation saw huge numbers of them serving as cavalrymen to many Greek and Persian kingdoms during the classical era.
    • 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 Sioux, Cheyenn, Crow, Kiowa, and many other Native American nations of the Great Plains. Compared to the Eurasian horse nomads they spent much of history not having any horses until the 1600s when the Apaches 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 Comanches, 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 allies the Kiowa 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.
  • Though not much of a national or ethnic entity, 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 their nomadic lifestyle is still seen today in some degrees.
  • Many industrialized societies have similar 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 as well as a myriad of private programs, and getting your driver's license is considered a Rite of Passage among many teens. Many people outside the big city do much of their "getting around" in cars, and true to this trope, eating and sleeping on the road is quite 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.

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