Lesson 8) Feathered Friends
Welcome, students. Welcome! Come pull up a good patch of grass so we can get started. I know you can see some lovely creatures off on the other side of the courtyard, but I promise you’ll be introduced to them soon. Try to focus on me, though I know I’m not nearly as exciting.
Today we’ll be talking about a slightly unconventional form of magical airborne transport: magical creatures. I’ll confess, you’re not going to see an Abraxan tethered outside of Flourish and Blotts. Understandably, using magical creatures as regular transportation is not a common choice. But, there are a few situations in which it was (and sometimes still is) done. Mostly, though, this lesson is a chance to educate you on some of the wonderful feathered friends found in the magical world. Let’s get to it so you can stop staring at them and meet them properly.
In centuries past, flying creatures were nearly as popular as a broom or a carpet. Why, you might ask? If you think about all we’ve learned in previous classes, you’ll realize flying creatures were actually more dependable than the alternatives back then. Your winged horse wasn’t going to suddenly run out of magical energy and start plummeting out of the sky. They could usually go further and faster than early brooms. What’s more, they were also more comfortable, as horses’ flanks typically don’t give you splinters and make for a wider seat than a narrow pole.
Of course, there were trade offs. Your flying transport could suddenly decide they wanted to land and graze on a particularly delicious-looking patch of clover, or might not want to fly in the rain, or similar behaviors, as they are living things with a will of their own. Additionally, even magical animals need food, water, and rest, unlike a broom or a carpet. Therefore, once brooms caught up in sophistication, magical creatures were mostly abandoned for the inanimate options.
Still, the use of winged animals continued in some rural parts of the country (and world). Particularly on farms that bred the animals or used them as labor, they continued as a popular (and technically free) alternative to buying a broom or a carpet, which continued into the beginning of the 20th century. In the present day, however, these animals are mostly ridden for leisure, whether that’s a quick jaunt around the pasture to give them some exercise and entertain their owners, if they’re kept as pets, or if they’re a thoroughbred in some of the world’s more prestigious flying horse races.
Our lesson today mostly falls into this category, as Professor Anne has a few specimens of various breeds to show you, but it’s also good knowledge to have on the off chance you’re stranded without traditional magical transport someday. After all, we at Hogwarts know how horribly wrong things can go without warning! It’s best to be over-prepared! Enough of the doom and gloom, though. Let’s meet the topics of today’s lesson, shall we?
Our first and main group of flying creatures that will allow themselves to be ridden is winged horses. There are many different species that make up this group, such as Abraxans, Granians, and Thestrals. You’ll have to tame them if they grew up in the wild, but all species do equally well once they’ve been accustomed to humans.
As an example, one breed we have in abundance on the surrounding grounds of Hogwarts is the Thestral. While they may have a bit of a grim reputation -- and be difficult to mount and fly properly if you’ve never seen death -- they are some of the best-suited winged horses for a number of reasons. They are quite intelligent and have an uncanny sense of direction. Much like owls, you merely need to specify your destination (preferably a large landmark or a city, rather than a tiny shop or a friend’s flat), and in most cases, the Thestral will whisk you away with no trouble. We at Hogwarts only use them to pull the carriages from Hogsmeade to the castle when you arrive each year, but they could easily take you to Beauxbatons and back, as long as they were able to stop for grass.
Next up, we have Hippogriffs, which although definitely winged and in possession of equine features, are not a breed of winged horses.Technically speaking, these are part eagle, part horse. Hippogriffs are far more territorial and aggressive than winged horses, and with their sharp beaks and talons they can do some serious damage, so be sure to always take them seriously. In fact, don’t even make a disparaging joke within earshot of these creatures. They’re able to understand your intentions, if not necessarily the words you say, and can be absolutely deadly if offended. Needless to say, respect them and they’ll respect you. If you do earn their respect, however, they are a wonderful alternative
You’ll learn more about them in Care of Magical Creatures, should you choose to enroll in the class, but flying on one of those is significantly more complicated (and dangerous) than riding a winged horse, which is why I shan’t be trying it with First Years! We will, however, have the opportunity to learn how to fly on something else.
The Mane Event
Now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for, I expect. Our Care of Magical Creatures professor has been kind enough to come here today and bring a friend. It’s my pleasure to introduce Professor Anne and Drake!
Hello students! I know I haven’t met many of you yet, as you cannot take my course until your Second Year, but I’m Professor Anne. Madame Fox asked me to come and discuss flying on a winged horse. Now, I have to say, riding a winged horse does take a bit of practice, so don’t worry if your first ride isn’t perfect. Goodness knows mine wasn’t. I’m going to walk you through how to approach and mount a winged horse, and how to stay seated for the duration of your trip. Oh! How could I forget? I have brought one of the winged horses I keep around my hut for you to practice on. This is Drake, my Granian. I thought he would be a bit easier to practice on than a Thestral, as hopefully, you can all see him. Now, let’s discuss the dos and don’ts of winged horse riding.
Always start by approaching the winged horse slowly. Even if you’ve ridden a particular winged horse a million times, a ride is never guaranteed. By approaching slowly, you show respect to the creature you’re about to ask a favor from. As you move about the creature, go towards the head. Let them see you. You don’t like it when people sneak up behind you, do you? Once you are within arms reach, use your hand to pet their head. This will help calm them, and show that you are not a threat or attempting to be confrontational. As the winged horse grows accustomed to this, typically indicated by no longer throwing their head around or tensing, slowly move your hand down their neck and onto their back. Continue the slow strokes that you used on their head. As they become more comfortable, they will grow still. This is your sign to slowly move your leg so it is over their back and pull yourself onto the winged horse. Be sure your legs are situated behind the wings, not in front of them, as your legs could make it difficult for them to use their full range of motion.
Now, some words of caution as you attempt this. Do not grab onto the winged horse’s neck or mane to help lift yourself onto them. This can put unnecessary force on the creature and can startle them, causing you to be bucked off. If this happens, do not approach the winged horse again. Leave them be. You will need to regain their trust another time, and you most certainly will not be getting a ride from them immediately after being bucked off.
I’m sure a variety of questions are coming to mind. Do you need a saddle? No! Saddles are pretty uncommon for winged horse flight. Most people don’t have a saddle laying around, and it seems silly to purchase or go through the effort of conjuring one for lone instances. Those who are in more rural areas, as Madame Fox discussed at the beginning of the lesson, may have a saddle because of how they use the creature in their daily life, but this is the exception. It is purely circumstantial. If you decide to use a saddle, once you calm them, gently place and secure a saddle around their middle.
Additionally, I’m sure you’re wondering how to control your winged horse once you’re on it. I’ve found the best way to steer is to lean in the direction you need to move in, and your winged horse will follow. This may take some practice, as the first time I attempted I ended up directing the horse to go completely in the wrong direction, but practice always makes perfect. Think of it like steering a much larger, living broom. To start your journey, or signal your winged horse to take off, gently tap their neck while leaning forwards. This will also indicate for them to go faster and higher, typically. For all else, lean left to go left, lean down to move lower or towards the ground, etc. To clarify, these are what my particular horse has been taught, though this is fairly standard, at least in the United Kingdom. To stay on your winged horse, especially if you are not using a saddle, simply wrap your arms around their neck and keep your legs flush against their body. Do not pull their mane or squeeze their neck or body too hard, as this will cause them to buck you off, and being bucked off mid-flight is never ideal.
My, I think I have gone on long enough. I believe Madame Fox wanted to allow some time for you to practice with Drake. I do have a saddle here for those that would prefer to practice with one, but of course, that’s up to you. With that, I’m going to move over to the side so there is plenty of space for everyone who wants to practice.
Thank you, Professor Anne, for your insight! For those interested in creatures like Drake the Granian, I highly recommend you investigate Care of Magical Creatures in your Second Year. Now, would anyone like a turn? Don’t be shy! Ah, Mr. Rivers, I thought you might be up for the task -- step right up. Yes, slow movements like that are perfect, nothing too big or fast. That’s it. Now, do you want a saddle? Ah, perhaps for the best. Make sure you have a firm (but gentle) grip on his neck and then give his neck a gentle tap. The rest is up to you, though please don’t go too high!
Class, take a look at that! See how easily Drake is able to change directions? Also note how he doesn’t need to constantly flap his wings -- he’s able to sail for quite a ways as there’s no need to climb in elevation, nor to go especially fast. Ah, it seems Mr. Rivers is back, let’s give him space for a landing, though I’m sure our equine friend will know just what to do without much input. There we go! Not too bad for your first try, hmm? Bid goodbye to our special guests for now, class, though they’re not going far! If you play your cards right, you may be able to meet Drake again under different circumstances.
Now, with our lovely, but distracting guests gone, you may have noticed I haven’t mentioned a lot of other winged creatures, like dragons, griffins, or Auguries, to name a few. The reasons for this are simple: they aren’t practical to ride. I hope I don’t have to explain why the wizarding world doesn’t make a habit of riding dragons (and if you’re still a bit lost, we’ll actually talk about a couple excellent reasons next week), but griffins are impossible to ride for similar reasons. Essentially, they don’t tame very well. Because the creature is biologically half eagle and half lion it is all predator, and doesn’t adapt well to being a beast of burden. Auguries and other large flying birds aren’t practical for other reasons. While they may be easy to tame, their limitation comes from their size. They simply wouldn’t be able to carry the weight of an adolescent or adult.
So, with that, we’re able to close the book on flying magical creatures used for transportation. Next week, we’ll be looking at even stranger options for magical transportation throughout the past few thousand years. It should be rather light fare before you finally sit for your exam and, hopefully, pass the course so you can bring a broom with you to Hogwarts next year if desired! Until then!