If riding on elephants is cruel and hurtful, then the practice should be outlawed. Elephants are huge animals and having a human who weighs a fraction of what the elephant weighs ride on their backs seems harmless. However, elephants were not made for riding on like horses are. Horses have significant muscles in their backs which gives them the ability to have a rider. Elephants were not made this way.
Yes, the practice of riding elephants should be outlawed. If riding on the backs of animals injures their spines, it should go without saying that harming them in this way for entertainment should be outlawed. If animals were the only mode of transportation, then riding elephants and other animals (horses, camels, etc.) would make more sense.
I know people like to use the culture argument but culture is not good enough of a reason to hurt someone, would you be ok with rape in country X if it was part of their culture? Or if it was ok to hit a women if they dared talk without you telling them they are allowed to? No because we know you hurt someone that way and culture should be above common sense, common sense tells you you shouldn't purposely be hurting innocent animals.
Their spines are not made to support the weight of humans. I know it’s hard to believe given their size, but Zebras are the same way. Whether you ride elephants in Thailand or not is your choice. I try my best not to judge others because I’m acutely aware that we all have different moral codes & standards.