Digital illustration of a lion running

Fantasy stories often depict riders of some sort, and today we’re going to explore the best animals in the genre for such a purpose. I want to discuss the pros and cons of nine fantasy creatures, and you can decide if it’s the next steed for your protagonist or antagonist! Keep in mind, I am going off of common mythology and lore. By all means, I encourage you to twist it up in your stories.

I will be discussing their merit as a steed, and in battle. Some pros can actually be cons, and vice versa, so I will be pointing out specific, and common, situations that might show up in your fantasy story. This applies to both high fantasy and urban fantasy, because when you look at it, it’s all the same. Mountains can be interchanged for skyscrapers, cars for carriages, et cetra. (Who says high fantasy can’t have tech, anyhow? The only condition is that it needs to be on a different world, so…that might make another good article discussion topic…speaking of which).


9. Hippogryph

hippogriff land under the mounties

The Hippogryph is a hooved animal often regarded as regal in fantasy literature. They demand tons of respect in most stories they are written in, and are a formidable opponent. Typically, it has half the body of a horse with the head and upper limbs of a bird. It’s similar to the gryphon counterparts, but instead of a lion, utilizes a horse. 



The hippogryph has some powerful hind legs, as typical of horses, which can lead to a very powerful kick back. They most likely have a higher speed on the ground than most non-hooved animals on this list, meaning chasing down an opponent in an area where flight isn’t possible could be good. This is a flying mythical beast, meaning you have aerial combat as an option. Not to mention, the front claws of a hippogryph can be pretty deadly, though not as much as the gryphon counterpart. Another weapon they have in their arsenal are those antlers. I imagine they would be extremely loyal once you earn their respect. 



Speaking of respect, you will likely need to build it up over many years. Gryphs are no pushovers, and this process might be tedious. You’ll take a while to get up to par. Also, these animals might not be truly at home on either the ground or in the air, given their hybrid form. This also means it might not be super great in both settings, so that is something to take into account. On its own, it’s likely excellent, but up against something that specializes in either ground or flight, it might struggle. Finally, bird bones and horse legs can be fragile, so if your gryph is wounded there, that’s bad news. 


8. Ghostly Steeds 



A ghostly steed can take on any form, be it horse, wolf, large bird, you name it. These points will apply to all of the above. The first notable thing is how frightening a ghostly steed can be, which could be a huge advantage in combat where that is relevant. If you bring your ghostly steed to an area where you need to frighten combatants, you will have a key to that with the ghostly steed. The steed is unlikely to suffer physical damage easily, depending on your lore. They might be able to grow or shrink at will and go invisible, too, which all helps the frightening factors where this steed shines.



While I doubt ghostly steeds would take much damage, I also don’t think they would deal much of it either. Sure, they could solidify so that you could ride it, but a steed that can fade in and out would be less likely to deal a ton of damage like other contenders on this list. Also, while the ghostly steed might not take a lot of physical damage, depending on your lore, it could be evened out by the ability to take magical hits. Not to mention, if your steed malfunctions with solidification, you could have a long drop down. Finally, this steed isn’t something you’d want unless you’re trying to frighten others. The fear factor can also be a con if you’re trying to avoid scaring away innocent people. 


7. Flying Fox



Foxes are adorable, beautiful creatures that would make a very aesthetically pleasing mount. They are generally fairly cunning, leaving room for some swift getaways when needed. Given their lithe forms, they have the potential to be super speedy, which also benefits the run factor, either into or away from battle. If your flying fox has speech, they could give advice on trickery or planning in general. Finally, they could represent a strong connection to both magic and nature, allowing townsfolk or those you interact with to be more trusting if that is relevant to them. 



A smaller creature on this list, the fox could be considered fragile. It’s not the most robust, deadly battle animal on this list. You’d have to deal with a lot of shedding, and the fox itself might be a tad picky, given its cunning nature. There would be little damage output, but also taking hits could be very detrimental. This fox would be less of a battle animal and more of a swift steed for that reason.


6. Treant

looking up in flock of birds flying to mysterious dark old tree,digital painting


Treants would definitely be the most tanky on this list. We saw the hobbits ride one in Lord of the Rings which was super neat. They are likely the most powerful ground steed on this list which could deal massive clobber damage upon its enemies. These things are guardians of the forest, so would demand such respect and could get around a forest terrain well. Also, if you give your treant magic, you could summon thorns or carnivorous plants. 



The glaring issue with treants is their susceptibility to fire. If one of them catches on fire, you lose the whole thing and yourself, most likely, by burning to death. You could try to enchant them with fire resistance, but that would probably require the consequence of a ton of magic. The treants generally are big and bulky, so there wouldn’t be any swiftness to their movements more than likely. Finally, they could be uncomfortable around advanced tech, but this depends on the treant. Like hippogryphs, you probably would need to earn their respect before earning the steed. 


5. Demonic Entity

the horseman, grim reaper riding the horse jumping from a pile of human skulls, digital art style, illustration painting


Demons make excellent friends if you talk to the right ones. A demonic steed would be lovely so long as you obtain the right contracts. Demons throughout mythology, evil or not, are notorious for their contracts and getting what they want. Your steed likely is both resistant to fire and breathes it. You could make a really great friend if you play your cards right! Plus, they could frighten your enemies quite like the ghost steed.



Don’t get the wrong contract, or your demon will——- Y̶͚̞̊̇̋͗̊̍́̎̾̑̅͗̓͐ö̶̢͉̗̗͚͚͉͓͓͎͙́̐̀̅͐̉̓̍͒͘͜ȗ̴͔͓̬͙̟͚͛͜r̷̨̮̺̦̰̭̠̻̹̞̝̖̋̔̑͐͜ͅͅ ̸̥̃͑w̵̢̮̦͚͖̩͒̓͐ĩ̵̢̧̧̮͎̲͚͈̩̦̼̰͕̬̾̃l̴̨̛̥̫͖͕̹̬̗͖̱͔̗͓̗̅̿̿͋̐̚̕͠l̸̛̲̙̳̰̭̯͓̽̀͌̒̓̔ ̵̧̨̨̪̘̞̼̻̻̣͎̞́͌̀į̴̨̧̪͚̤̺̯̗̫̯̙͍̫͍̈̑̉̄̅͌́͆̐̅̉͂̈́̕͝s̵͉̘̏̈́̆́̓̈́͒̏̃͠ś̷̨͚̣̩̞̥̖͔̬̝̦̦͇́̽̈́̄̋̈́̽͆͒̚͘̚͜ ̵̢͔̼̲̹̟̹̜͒͂̂́̈́͑̾͛̈̂̀̀́͘m̶̝̭̮̤̆͊̓̓̂̇̑̍i̴̧̨̪͔̰̳̞̥̞͔̞͍̤͚̩̓͊̏̆͛̕n̵̡̡̰̫͎̖̤͔̤͕͖͉̤̉͗̔̈̆͌͐̀̄͂͆͆͘͘͠e̷͈̻̤͚͎̠̭̝̤͕͑̓̅͗̈́̓̓͂̓̀̑̂͝͠͝ͅ


4. Phoenix

Burning bird phoenix digital painting.


The phoenix is a legendary mythical animal up there with dragons. Supposing it would be your steed, one could assume that it might be able to breathe out fire. The phoenix is famous for its rebirth cycle, so if it’s killed, you’ll be able to protect the bird so that it can come back. This is also a pure flying steed, meaning it’s excellent in the sky compared to the hybrids on this list. Also, if it’s a phoenix design like the picture above (well, that’s a firehawk but I don’t care, it represents a phoenix perfectly), it’s likely to be extremely intimidating. Who would want a bird made of pure fire hurtling toward them? Finally, they might have magical properties and other life-giving things that provide healing benefits, depending on your lore.



You’re going to need to learn how to handle a phoenix, otherwise you might get burned. This includes any metals you happen to have on you. Water is probably a major issue for the phoenix, so it might be weakened in the rain. Given it’s great with flight and a bird, a counter for it would be cave or ground battles, which would not be dealt with well given it is strictly for the sky. The phoenix might have a fiery temper to deal with. It might cause environmental damage like forest fires if not controlled. 


3. Pegasus/Flying Unicorn



The unicorn is a classic, elegant creature that could be twisted into many things, including something violent. Common myth is always better when there’s a twist, and changing them from shy depictions like in some stories to more violent is a neat idea. Granted, those horns signify they are no pushovers in general. They would be great in combat for piercing damage. The unicorn could be a hybrid, depending on if it can fly or not. 



Horse legs need to be mentioned here like on the hippogryph. They are incredibly fragile, which leads to a major disadvantage against the creatures with more powerful attacks. This is another hybrid, meaning it’s no expert on the ground or air if it can fly. If it can’t fly, it’s grounded. Depending on the lore, unicorns could spook easily, especially if they are not carnivorous. A herbivorous unicorn might not be as aggressive, but this is lore dependent. 


2. Manticore



The manticore is a fierce contender on this list, vicious with its claws and teeth. It also has deadly poison with the scorpion tail, leading to another biochemical weapon for use in combat. There is definitely flight capability here; imagine a lion-scorpion hybrid barreling down on you in battle, something that would be intimidating as hell. Indeed, this steed is meant for battle more than fleeing, and would likely be great on the frontline.



This depends on the lore, but the manticore might be very hard to control and stubborn. It would probably be far better on the ground than in the sky, meaning aerial combat would be better won by the experts if there’s any on the field. It’s a larger animal, so would not be as swift or easily maneuverable as other smaller counterparts. Finally, an abundance of aggression to lead to other issues if your manticore is not a calm one.


1. Dragon



Dragons are iconic, and they are my top choice on this list. They work for swift movement and battle, and depending on the dragon, could have a variety of powers like fire, ice, water manipulation, venom, and more. They generally are gigantic with dangerous teeth and claws. Also, in many aspects of lore, they are highly intelligent and could be a companion to learn more about the world with. They could double as a guardian of territory or treasure. 



The bond with an intelligent dragon might take years, quite like some others on this list that require careful relationship building. The dragons tend to not be stealthy at all, given they are among the biggest enemies on this list. Sometimes the intimidation factor could be too much for your character’s objective as well, which could make tasks take a bit longer. Finally, smaller steeds could outmaneuver the dragon and attack from angles it can’t reach.


Well, there you have it! I hope you found a fun fantasy steed on this list, and hopefully it gave you some things to consider and think about. I know my mount of choice would be a dragon, but I’m predictable like that. A treant is a classic one that sounds fun, and given I love foxes, a flying fox would be a good choice for one of my characters. Well, flying fox as in a winged fox, not the bat. The bat in an even bigger form would be neat too, though! 

If you’re interested in a dark dystopic urban fantasy series, please visit my Book List


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By Des M. Astor

Des M. Astor is a fantasy author who is fascinated with biology and melds this subject into her work as seamlessly as possible. She enjoys coming up with ways to explain fantasy creatures through biological means--and does so with her works, one of which is a dystopic urban fantasy novel series known as The Kingdoms of Blood. She takes the most pride in her twist on vampires, which are living humanoid entities, sister species of humans, that operate as beings reliant more on biological explanation than magical (though there's no absence of magic in her works either, of course!).

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