A Zorse of Course: Training Zebra Hybrids

By Andrea Galbraithe

 

I have never been one to choose the easy path when it comes to horses. I like the challenging ones, the ones other people have given up on, the ones that were “crazy.” Not dangerous per se – I have to draw a line somewhere! – but I enjoy giving animals that I believe could be turned into something great a chance. My driving horse, for example, was a reject warmblood with a history of abuse and was unrideable when I picked her up for $500 off of Craigslist. After much hard work, she became an incredible driving horse, and goes happily in her Comfy Fit harness with Carefree padding, perfect for her sensitive skin.

zuFrom difficult horses, I branched out to difficult hybrids – and am now the proud owner of three little mules, all of which were feral when I got them, and all of which are now in various stages of being broken to drive. My latest addition to the herd is a 46” zony. Yes, that’s right, he is half pony and half zebra! And yes, he does have stripes!

Zazu is a 2 year-old zony that came from his breeder in Michigan. Rarity Acres stands a Grants Zebra stud aptly named Rarity – for a zebra, he is friendly and kind, and even can be collected by hand. He passes his temperament to his foals, whose dams are also picked not only for their conformation but for their temperament as well, and the results have been successful. I first took up contact with his breeder when we rescued a zonkey from a kill pen last year. I mentioned to her that someday I would like to own a small zony for driving, and she happened to mention that Zu’s owner was selling him. The stars aligned and he came home to me this past July!

 

What is a zebroid?

A zebroid is a zebra hybrid similar to a mule. They consist of either a horse crossed with a zebra (zorse), or a donkey crossed with a zebra (zonkey). Like mules, they are sterile. In most cases, a zebra stallion is used to cross with a mare or a jenny donkey, but there are also cases of the reverse (though less likely and sometimes said to be more difficult, as the foals will tend to pick up their mothers’ behaviors).

 

What are they like?

Zebroids are not just striped horses. They inherit all of the wild instincts of their zebra parent and require an experienced handler. Full zebras can be very aggressive – after all, they must fight off lions for their survival! – and are prone to biting, kicking, and striking behaviors if threatened or frightened. The best way to have success with a zebroid is to start handling it right from birth, and create a positive bond to human handlers. Many zebra breeders bottle feed their babies, but like with orphan foals, this can lead to many problems down the road. If not handled regularly by humans, zebroids can revert back to their wild side, and once there they can be difficult to retrain.
My zony LOVES people! He can be a little shy with strangers, but warms up fast. He runs to me in the pasture, loves to be cuddled and scratched, and he is easy to handle. He is friendly and social, and gets along with all sizes and types of equines. Zebroids tend to bond strongly to one handler, and can be difficult for people they don’t know.

 

What are the challenges of training a zebroid?

zazu-in-comfy-fit-harnessIt can be difficult to overcome a zebroid’s wild instincts. They bond powerfully to their herd, and can have strong flight responses. If not handled regularly, they can become quite wild. If I don’t have Zu out to do something every day, the I am at least in his pasture loving on him every day. Keeping a positive relationship with humans is so important for him.

My biggest challenge with Zu is his super intelligent brain. Once he knows how to do something, he’s got it and there are no more questions asked. His first answer tends to be “absolutely not!” but his second answer is always, “sure fine.” Unlike my mules, which all tend to be suspicious for extended periods of time when learning something new, Zazu absorbs it quickly and moves right on.  Unfortunately this can also work in reverse – sometimes he thinks he knows how to do something, and then the process of undoing it and relearning a different way can be incredibly hard! Teaching him how to lunge my specific way has been challenging, as he was lunging before he came to me and was taught a different way. He is very strong through his neck, like a donkey (or a zebra!), and I will be reinforcing softness through his neck probably for the rest of eternity! Currently, Zu bathes, clips, ties, stands for the farrier, leads, trailers, wears a blanket, flymask/flysprays, ponies, bridles, wears a full harness, lunges, and is learning more about long lining. We just ordered a beautiful Comfy Fit from Chimacum, black with brown padding, which perfectly compliments his color.

 

What are my goals for Zazu?

Eventually I would like him to compete in local fun shows and HDTs. To my knowledge, this has never been done before. There are currently no ADS rules regarding zebra hybrids, but horses, mules, and donkeys are allowed to compete. Zazu is a type of mule so he technically falls under that category! We have a long way to go before we ever even consider this, and there will be many factors to consider in the future. If I don’t feel he will be suitable, I will not pursue it – but I have a good feeling about him. I think if ever there was a stripey equine that could do it, it will be him!

Follow along on Facebook at Zazu’s own page, Zazu the Zorse!

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