Copyright 2005 By Nancy Nunke - Spots 'N Stripes Ranch, Ramona, CA

"Bottle-fed zebra babies for sale!" If you see this ad, run for the hills! Why? Isn't a bottle-fed zebra baby more 'bonded' to humans? The answer is an emphatic 'yes'!. Isn't the bottle-fed zebra baby much less fearful of humans than the average baby zebra? The answer is again an emphatic 'yes'! Then won't the baby zebra train better and be safer to work around and the possibility of it being able to pull a cart or even ride much greater? The answer is a resounding 'absolutely not'!

Let's take a look at what goes through the baby zebra's mind when you replace its real mama by allowing it to suck from a bottle held by you, or even slurp from a bucket held by you over and over again during the first 12 weeks of its life. You ARE its mama! It is that simple.

So, what is wrong with that? EVERYTHING! A baby equine, whether a horse, donkey, mule, zorse, zonkey or zebra NEVER respects its mother. Often within hours, usually within days, and always within weeks, the baby equine is biting, kicking, standing on the shoulders of, running into, and otherwise abusing their mothers mercilessly. The mares rarely, if ever, discipline their youngsters. A mother discouraging this behavior would be inhibiting her offspring's desire and ability to become a dominant member of the herd later. The baby is programed to disrespect its mother; the colts to a greater extent than the fillies.

Within just a few short days the baby is following its mother less and less, and the mother is hard pressed to keep her baby from getting into trouble. In fact, we have performed an experiment …over and over again for decades with hundreds mother/baby pairs, including donkeys/donkey babies, horse mare/mule babies, horse mare/zorse babies, horse mare/horse babies, donkey jennet/zonkey babies, and zebra mares/zebra babies. We take the individual mother and baby out for a walk with the dam on a lead and leave the babies to follow. A day old baby will stick right to its mother's side most often, but within just a few days of daily walks the baby will venture farther and farther from its mother, and the mother will call to the baby to come back to her side. Within a couple of weeks the mother's call becomes more insistent as the baby travels even farther and investigates other equines, dogs, plants, equipment, etc. Pretty soon the baby is running around visiting other equines and preferring not to come to mother's call at all, and needs to be chased down and brought back to mother's side by the humans.

However, when you turn the experiment around, with the same mother and baby, and let the mare loose, while leading the baby, the mother sticks right to her baby's side, never wandering off to do her own thing like her baby did, but attentively following her baby anywhere you lead it. We never fear that a loose mare mare will leave her baby, unless she one of those rare mares that has rejected her baby. You see this if you watch carefully even in the pasture. The mother's are actually following their babies as they cavort around, trying to make sure their babies are safe. When their babies lie down at whatever place they choose, the mother will stand over the foal while they sleep.

So, it is not the babies that respect and follow their mothers, it is the mothers that dote on their babies, allowing the babies to pretty much do whatever they want. So, if you put yourself in the position of 'mama' by 'nursing' the baby zebra, yes, this baby will initially 'bond' with you because you are its source of food and protection, and it will recognize you out of every other human, but respect, translated into a 'healthy fear' of you will be nonexistent. As the baby matures, it has less and less respect for its mother, and finally, when the ties are broken due to maturity, the youngster will even vie for absolute dominance over you. At that point, all humans will become part of the animal's 'herd' and the equine will try to gain dominance over every human, not just the one that fed it as a baby.

At the ranch we get at least one call or email a month asking for help with a bottle-fed (hand fed) zebra gone bad. It is never a matter of 'if' they will become aggressive and dangerous, only a matter of 'when'. The 'when' will occur as the animal matures, and the time that this will happen varies from one animal to another due to temperament type (submissive, intermediate, dominant), gender, (stallion, mare, gelding) and, to the smallest percentage, the learned behaviors of the animal from your interaction with it on a daily basis. Because this 'bonded to humans' personality was formed almost from birth, it is extremely difficult and more importantly, extremely dangerous to try to alter any of these behaviors with training. This is what the animal now 'is'. I will not take anyone's money to work with a bottle-fed adult animal anymore. It is not worth my life and/or limb for me to work with them and try to change what was created and ingrained in them from infancy. Zebras are many times stronger than horses, with two sets of canine teeth that are razor sharp, and they know how to use them. Bottle fed animals WILL use them, you can be sure.

What will they do to you? They will bite, kick, strike, push you down, drop on their knees on you, and effectively try to do as much damage to you as they can, the same as they would to another zebra they are trying to dominate in a fight. Even a zebra to zebra fight often results in a bloody battle, lasting for hours on end, and often a dominant zebra will pick on a more submissive zebra daily, weekly, monthly, grabbing the neck with a pit-bull-like grip and tearing away at the skin and flesh. This is exactly what a bottle fed zebra will do to you every opportunity it gets once it is mature. A bottle fed stallion is the worst. Especially when you give him his own mares he will turn on you and severely injure you. I have been in the hospital twice after being attacked by a bottle-fed stallion we thought we could simply 'manage' here because we are fully set up for zebras, and we agreed to rescue its terrified owners from it. He tore his mares up, and tore me up, insisting that I become one of his 'mares'. He insisted on attacking men who were a threat to his herd. He didn't know whether he was a zebra or a human - and he acted like a demonic combination, one minute appearing friendly and wanting petted, and the next minute grabbing the person so fast one couldn't even think fast enough to move. This is the story we get all the time on these bottle fed animals. BUYER BEWARE of bottle fed zebras. Of course, horses are the exact same when they bottle fed...luckily it usually only happens with horses when a mare dies or rejects its baby, as horse foals are all kept on their horse moms unless one of these circumstances occurs.

We have two mares here at the ranch that we keep to share with folks who come to our training clinics - a zonkey mare and a zebra mare that were both bottle-fed at different homes. Their behavior is identical with only slightly less of a 'killer instinct' than the stallion's, but they will try to bite and kick at almost every opportunity, even creating opportunities for themselves to do so. They will back up straight towards a person preparing to kick with both hind legs wanting to send you into oblivion. BUYER BEWARE of bottle fed zebras.

The stories that come to us of varying degrees of injury, from hundreds of sutures to broken bones, to many soft tissue injuries, back injuries, whiplash, and more, are a living testament to the dangers of bottle feeding or bucket feeding (while holding the bucket). BUYER BEWARE of bottle fed zebras.

Now, just so that you are not totally put off on zebras as a potentially trained animal, with all these warnings about bottle feeding, be it known that horses and donkeys and all other equines will do the same thing if bottle fed, sometimes to a slightly less dangerous degree, since zebras are stronger and with more instinctive 'fight' in them, but with bottle fed horse stallions being extremely dangerous, biting, kicking, striking, chasing you down, and even killing people, as has been known throughout the history of the domestic horse. When I was a little girl, just 3 years old, my aunt was temporarily housing a three year old sorrel Morgan stallion that had killed one man and put two others in the hospital, that was waiting to have its fate sealed. It had been orphaned and bottle fed, and then, as a three year old, had a clear picture of what it had to do when another 'human' stallion tried to train it (subdue it, or be dominant over it). By being bottle fed it was 'programed' to fight with other human males, the same as the zebra stallion was 'programed' to want human women as part of its harem, and to 'fight' human males. Yes, equines, as well as almost all other animals can tell the difference between male and female. It is a simple matter of phermones, which are easily recognized even between different species. As well, animals recognize babies of different species, either from the lack of phermone scents, or from the 'baby smell' that is common among many species, which is in the breath of the animal.

The question now is: If bottle feeding is not the way to get a zebra to learn to interact well with the humans, get over their fears, and not be aggressive when they mature, what is the 'right' way of accomplishing this? At our ranch we bucket feed our babies that we separate from their wild zebra mothers that don't allow us to train the babies in the stall with them. Our trained mares we allow to raise their babies and we work with the babies every day. We make sure the baby is drinking well, which is accomplished just after one or two feedings with the bucket pushed up to the muzzle, then the bucket is placed in the stall and when the formula is placed in the bucket, we leave the stall altogether, so that the baby does not relate us to the food. We almost always give the baby a miniature mare or donkey to bond with for three months or so. This animal will teach the baby not to have the typical 'get away at all costs' fear of humans, and teach them that we are their friend and trainer, but NEVER their mother.

During the course of the first three months of this baby's life - you must now spend hundreds of hours training this baby to be more 'horse-like' in its trained behaviors, and this is not accomplished with typical 'horse-training' techniques. It is only accomplished with 'zebra training' techniques adapted from the way the zebras train one another. We can establish a more definitive explanation of the zebra's mind, perhaps, by saying that zebras are 25% horse, 25% donkey, and 50% zebra in their behaviors. So, the very best horse trainer only has 25% of the knowledge he/she needs to train a zebra. If that person can also successfully train mules and donkeys, then he/she has 50% of the knowledge that is needed to train a zebra, and 50% of the knowledge will not get the zebra trained. That is why many great horse trainers have been heard saying "Zebras cannot be trained". They have felt that if, with all their equine knowledge, that 'they' cannot train a zebra, then the animal is untrainable. Not so, if you are training a zebra using zebra communication, they are very trainable. But it is a combination of efforts needed to have the final successful result, including when you have to start training, how much time it takes, and of course, how you train.

This is just one of the many aspects of zebra training that our clients learn about when they attend one of our 3-day zebra training clinics, which information can be found on our website. This, and our many other insights into zebra training, is what make our zebras very special animals for our clients. They are trained, and continue to be trainable. Almost from the minute they are born, they are properly socialized and trained. Zebra communication, behaviors; the differences between zebras and horses that make typical horse training almost impossible with zebras, and how you can become a zebra trainer extraordinaire are more of the exciting aspects of our 3 day zebra training program. We provide the zebras for the training clinic. This training is based on the natural communication and behaviors of zebras, and is also 100% successful with mustangs, domestic horses, zonkeys, zorses, mules, and donkeys as well. Problem horses respond amazingly to this training. We take you into the mind of the equine so that you can essentially become one to train one. The zebras have nuances in their thinking, instincts and behavior that go beyond the horses'.

So, what about zebras that are not bottle fed? Are they tractable, trainable? The answer to that is 'yes', with some exceptions. About one in six baby zebras may not train up to the degree that the other five will, a ratio somewhat lower than most domestic breeds of horses. But, like anything else, zebras can only be trained IF you know what you are doing, and even great horse trainers just cannot apply typical horse training techniques and expect to train a zebra. But zebras can be trained to drive and ride, and be wonderful equine companions, are much more loyal to you than almost any horse, and totally endearing with personality to spare as long as you learn how to understand, communicate with and subsequently train them. Obtaining a zebra with the proper start as we do here at Spots 'N Stripes Ranch is imperative to any future as a trained animal, with only the rarest of exceptions.

At the Spots 'N Stripes Ranch, we train all our zebra babies from their first day, and by the time our babies are 90 days old they have at least 300 hours of training, that's over 3 hours per day, and are better trained than almost any yearling horse foal by that time, knowing the verbal cues for 'whoa', 'back', 'away', 'come to', lead over obstacles, halter, tie, load, trailer, clip, body shave, pick up their feet, trim, and compete at horse shows in halter and color classes, are well socialized with people, dogs, cats, horses, mini horses, donkeys, etc. They have been introduced to saddles, harness, and cows. At three we begin to sit on them just a little, and at four they may be ridden and driven lightly. At five they are fully mature and can take a full training regimen. If it sounds like we go to a lot of effort with our zebras, you are right, and we are proud of how seriously we take our guardianship of these magnificent animals. Our 90 day old babies already have over $5000 of professional zebra training (not horse training) and with 25 - 30 years ahead of them in a relationship with this animal - what makes more sense to a potential owner - a trained zebra or an untrained or poorly trained animal that will never be able to be trained to a safe potential or to the abilities that one started correctly will do. Both cost the same to feed, vet, and house, but one is much safer, both for itself and for its owners, and much more interactive in a positive way. We encourage all breeders to rethink their breeding AND training programs and step up to the plate. A trained zebra is one of the rarest animals on earth - no one should expect them to be 'cheap', with all the time and effort and expertise it takes to get them to that point. It should be about quality - not quantity.

Zebras mature later than horses, so make sure your zebra's knees are closed prior to beginning a stressful riding or driving program.

If you would like information on our trained zebras or our zebra training program, please email or call us. Delivery of our zebras can be arranged anywhere! Credit cards accepted through Paypal, with Paypal fees added. Paypal accepted with Paypal fees added. Payments, lay away and terms also acceptable on approval.

International Zebra-Zorse-Zonkey Association Link

Zebra Discovery

Zorse and Zonkey Discovery

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