Last Updated on January 14, 2024

Ostriches are huge flightless birds of the desert, and you may be surprised to find out that you can indeed ride them as if they were horses or camels.

The practice is somewhat controversial, but more popular than you think.

Ostrich riding was actually rather a widespread activity in the US in the past and it is still practiced as a tourist attraction in parts of South Africa.

Not only that, but ostrich races are also a thing (and quite hilarious!) and they are held annually in several cities across the world including many American states and a few locations in the UK.

Riding on an ostrich may seem bizzarre and it is definitely something that you don’t see every day.

Let us dig deeper and learn everything you need to know about this unusual sport.

Ostrich Riding in Mui Ne Vietnam
Ostrich Riding in Mui Ne, Vietnam

Ostrich Riding

The ostrich is the largest bird in the world, and the only one that has been successfully ridden.

A fully grown ostrich can reach 1.6m (5.2 feet) of height and weight over 130kg (280 pounds).

Despite their size, ostriches are not meant for long-distance riding and there is some controversy around the ethical implications of humans riding them for fun.

Today, most ostrich farms only allow kids to ride the birds in order to avoid putting too much pressure on them.

The maximum weight an ostrich can carry on its back is around 86kg (198 pounds).

South African farms have a weight restriction of 75kg (165 pounds) for ostrich riding.

Other countries, particularly in Asia, may be less strict about this weight limit, but this does not mean it is okay to ride the ostrich if you are a heavier adult, because you will hurt the animal.

Where to ride ostriches

You can ride ostriches in South Africa, Nairobi, Vietnam, Curaçao, Mallorca (Spain) and the US.

The practice of ostrich riding is in decline, but it once used to be common in the South African city of Oudtshoorn, known as the “ostrich capital of the world”, because of its large number of ostrich farms.

There, riding ostriches is still a somewhat popular tourist activity.

In the US, ostrich riding used to be quite common in Florida back in the late 1800s, but ostrich farms have since disappeared or stopped offering rides.

Still, ostrich racing is quite common with races held annually all over the country.

Ostrich Riding South Africa

Two man racing while riding on an ostrich in South Africa.
Two man ostrich racing in South Africa.

Ostrich Riding FAQs

Can you ride an ostrich?

Technically, yes, you can ride an ostrich, but it is neither safe nor ethical.

Ostriches have been ridden in the past, but it’s a controversial practice due to the potential harm it can cause to the animal.

Many ostrich farms today only allow children to ride them and have weight restrictions to minimize injury to the bird.

Keep in mind that ostriches are still wild animals that cannot be fully tamed.

How fast can ostriches run?

Ostriches are extremely fast, they can run at a maximum speed of 43 miles per hour and maintain their speed for very long distances.

This ability allows them to make up for their inability to fly and escape predators, while also making them among the fastest animals in the world.

As a matter of fact, ostriches run faster than horses (to make things even better: a male ostrich can also roar like a lion). The only animal that can outrun an ostrich is the cheetah.

How much weight can a ostrich carry?

An adult ostrich can carry up to 198 pounds (86kg) on its back, but the weight restriction for riding is set to be lower by ostrich farms in order to minimize the risk of injury.

Most farms in Oudtshoorn put a limit of 165 pounds (75kg) for people to be able to ride ostriches, making the activity particularly suited for children.

Please do not lie about your weight or attempt to ride an ostrich if you are heavier han this.

Is ostrich riding cruel?

There are ethical implications to riding ostriches.

The anatomy of these birds are not really built for carrying humans, which is why reputable ostrich arms only allow riding for children and smaller adults.

Unfortunately, heavier adults still ride ostrich all the time, and it can be dangerous for both the bird and the rider.

Carrying too much weight can damage the ostrich’s back and put stress on them, and a stress ostrich can in turn become aggressive and attack the rider.

Is ostrich riding dangerous?

Ostriches are wild animals that cannot be tamed nor trained to be carry people, not even those in a farm.

If you are planning to go ostrich riding, always follow the farm’s guidelines, only ride over short distances, and do not provoke the bird.

Never ever attempt to ride a wild ostrich – they will get aggressive and their kick is powerful enough to kill a human!

Ostrich Racing

The history of ostrich racing dates back to 1890 when riding ostriches was a popular tourist attraction in Jacskonville, Florida.

The inventor of this sport is not known, but it is thought to have originated in Africa initially before spreading to America.

Today ostrich races are still organized in the US and many other countries across the world.

People ride ostriches directly or with the aid of saddles and wagons, the bird’s speed can reach 43 mph (70 km/h) and are rather difficult to control, during a race its not uncommon for the rider to fall and for the ostrich to continue the run by themselves.

Ostrich Racing
Ostrich Racing at Fair Grounds, Louisiana

Ostrich Races 2023

United States

  • Chandler Ostrich Festival – Chandler, Arizona
  • Sam Houston Race Park Camel & Ostrich Race – Houston, Texas
  • International Camel and Ostrich Races – Virginia City, Nevada
  • Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots – New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Prairie Meadows Ostrich Races – Altoona Iowa
  • Fonner Park Ostrich Race – Grand Island, Nevada
  • Canterbury Park Ostrich Race – Shakopee, Minnesota
  • Penn National Race Course Camel & Ostrich Racing Night – Grantville, Pennsylvania
  • Ellis Park Racing & Gaming – Henderson, Kentucky

United Kingdom

  • Brighton and Hove Ostrich Racing – Brighton, UK


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