How to Ride an Ostrich

Kim Bradley, a longtime friend of EN, and perhaps most famous for this photo and this article    was kind enough to send us an article about her recent experience riding an Ostrich.  Admittedly, it has nothing to do with eventing, but I thought it was an interesting story.  The article was originally posted on the Bradley Travel Blog and we appreciate them allowing us to repost it right here on Eventing Nation.  Thanks for writing this Kim and thank you for reading.

From Kim:

The first thing to know is that riding an ostrich is nothing like riding a horse. But a quick side-by-side comparison, horse vs. ostrich, will show you why they are different.

Look into a horse’s eyes. You might see affection, indifference, loathing, fear–whatever it is, you’ll see something. You’ll sense that somewhere behind those eyes there’s a functioning brain, making decisions that might occasionally be described as rational.

Look into a ostrich’s eyes, and you’ll be able to check your hairdo. That’s about it. Gram for gram I don’t think ostriches’ brains are that much smaller than horses’, but ostriches clearly have a lot less neurons firing.

Look at the horse’s neck. Nice and sturdy, with all that handy mane to grab.

Look at the ostrich’s neck. If you have any doubts about its flimsiness, give it a little push. The neck will coil away from you like a large and hairy snake. Nothing to hang onto there.

Look at the horse’s legs. Four of ‘em. One on each corner. Kind of comforting, really.

Ostrich, two legs. Not as good.

In fact, riding an ostrich is remarkably like riding a pencil-necked two-hundred-and-fifty pound chicken. For all that, I was very keen to give it a go.

We were in Oudtshoorn, the ostrich capital of South Africa. Located inland from Mossel Bay near gently rolling mountains, the town was originally settled by–I was surprised at this, too–Latvian Jews. They all speak Afrikaans now. (The drugstore in Oudtshoorn, manned entirely by white people, was also the one place in all of South Africa where I absolutely could not make my English-speaking self understood.) Ostriches were farmed here starting in the late 1800s, because of the demand for ostrich feathers to decorate ladies’ hats. Before World War I and the invention of the automobile, prime ostrich feathers were worth their weight in gold.

Now, however, ostriches are prized for their meat and their skin, which makes a remarkably beautiful (and expensive)leather. The ostrich farms cater to tourists; at ours we began with a lovely meal of ostrich fillet (tastes like beef, not chicken) and red South African wine. We moved on to petting ostriches, admiring paddocks of foot-high baby ostriches, and learning about ostrich development in general. Next our hostess escorted our group to a small paddock, and that’s where the real fun began.

The ostriches aren’t trained to be ridden. There’s no saddle, no reins, no attempt at or semblance of control.

The farm staff turned a half dozen ostriches loose into the paddock, where they milled about randomly the way ostriches do. A staff member grabbed one and threw a cloth bag over its head. Apparently doing that confuses ostriches into temporary docility. The men pushed the bagged ostrich up against the board fence of the paddock, lifted the ostrich’s wings, and told me to climb aboard.

I won’t ride a horse without a helmet, pants, and sturdy leather shoes, but I rode my ostrich in capris and a sun hat.

The ostrich’s body was thinner and smaller than that of my daughter’s small pony. Its feathers were wonderfully soft, and for a moment I worried about crushing them. (The ones on the body aren’t the valuable ones–and anyway, the days of ostrich plumes are long past.) As instructed, I hooked my legs over the ostrich’s knees, which are right up by its body. (Think about the legs on a roast chicken. No, flip it over, legs pointing down. See? I tucked my feet right around the chicken thighs–only on the ostrich, of course.) I grabbed the wing pits. I leaned back.

The man yanked the bag off the ostrich’s head. The ostrich exploded. With only two legs, ostriches can’t buck, which was dead useful. My ostrich skittered instead, ping-ponging back and forth around the small paddock, scattering the other ostriches into a sort of cascading hysteria. It took considerable will to maintain my grip on the wingpits and not fasten my hands around its neck instead. After all, that’s where the mane should be. But I’m pretty sure that strangling the ostrich was not in my best interests just then.

I figure I managed eight seconds, like a bull rider. I didn’t fall off, but I didn’t actually dismount, either. With a lapful of wings, my only real option was to slide straight backward, into the supporting grasp of two of the staff members, who were laughing themselves silly at the screeching white woman on the bird.

It’s hard to call it riding. But I sat on the back of a galloping ostrich, and by golly I had fun.



  • Beth Collier says:

    There’s no YouTube video? I guess they eat the ones that like to cow-kick the tourists.

  • DH says:

    so stupid beyond belief – just the whole thing in general. (why even the helmet comment? geesh, okay, I got up too early all this week, so I might be a bit cranky)

  • JoiseyGirl says:

    Hilarious! Thanks for the laugh!

  • Mich says:

    What a hoot, I too would love to see a video. I think it I would be laughing the rest of the day!

  • RoeVee says:

    Aw, I feel sad for the bird.

  • Kim says:

    Thanks for bringing up the old photo, John. Love you too.

  • critter says:

    Well, that doesn’t sound like a very kind thing to do!

  • PatK says:

    Fun story! I never would have thought about riding an ostrich.

  • Kathleen sullivan says:

    I cannot believe anyone (especially supposed horse lovers) can even begin to think this is funny. This is animal cruelty beyond belief. Think how terrified that animal was. Just because a bunch of yahoo Aussies are making a buck, that is no excuse for anyone who cares about innocent animals to think this is funny. Anyone who goes anywhere in the world and participates in animal cruelty has no business in the horse world. Shame on all of you!!!

  • Kathleen sullivan says:

    My apologies to the Aussies, should have been insulting the South Africans. Was so upset by photo I did not pay attention to the location.

  • karimarie26 says:

    I only wish that this was in the US!! I have a significant other who is DYING to do this (he doesn’t want to get on a horse, but an ostrich, go figure)!!!! Thanks for the giggle. And I don’t feel that bad for the ostrich, it’s only 8 seconds of it’s life, it’s scared, it runs, no whips, no spurs, no piece of leather around it’s flank, I think humans do much worse to horses (rodeos?!)

    • Alphy says:

      There is a ostrich festival in Arizona. I know they have races, there, not sure if they let individual ride them through.

  • blahblue says:

    so you just assumed it was “yahoo Aussies”? Jeez… Prejudiced much? Not all Australians are like crocodile dundee. In fact, few are. You’re working off a stereotype of the beer swilling, reckless, irresponsible yobbo Aussie larikin, that is wildly inaccurate. Just like Americans aren’t all like Bush, British aren’t all like Thatcher, German’s are certainly not all Nazi’s, Chinese aren’t all like Mao, etc etc…

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