Training Zebras - Zorses - Zonkeys

Due to overwhelming e-mails inquiring about how we train our zebras, we will share with you some of our training tips that we use with our zebras, donkeys, zonkeys, zorses, mules and even horses. What we do with our zebras will work on donkeys, mules, zorses, zonkeys and horses, but what is done just with horses often has little to do with getting the other species and hybrids trained. To give you an idea of the zebra mind, think of it as being 25% horse, 25% donkey, and 50% zebra, the wild side. It is the zebra side and sometimes the donkey side, that has made, even the best horse trainers in the world exclaim, "Zebras cannot be trained!" Well, zebras speak a different language than horses in many ways, and to reach the goal of having a trained zebra, you simply need to learn how to speak donkey, and how to speak zebra, as well as knowing how to speak horse. We will get as many tips up on the site as possible, but it will be an on-going task. We are always glad to hear from so many of our fellow 'stripers' from around the world. Please continue to e-mail us with questions and comments.

FIRST, we need to say that these methods are simply our own, and in no way can we take any responsibility for any injury or results of any kind incurred by anyone copying, trying to copy, understanding or misunderstanding our methods of training. The technical aspects of zebra training include understanding (and speaking 'zebra') zebra communication, behavior, understanding the individual nuances of a particular animal, and knowing that 'timing is everything'. Along with all that - COMMON SENSE has a big place in zebra training. Just knowing WHAT we do is not enough, nor is HOW to do it. No one should work with a zebra unless they have much prior successful training experience with large animals. Zebras are five times stronger than a horse, and are inherently dangerous animals. Unless you understand everything about the particular species and are an expert trainer, we do not recommend anyone work with or train a horse, a zonkey, a zorse, a mule, a donkey, or a zebra. If anyone uses any of our methods of training, you waive any right to recourse of any kind against Spots 'N Stripes Ranch, Inc., its trainers, owners, writers, web hosts, web masters, or anyone else associated with the Ranch. By putting up this web page, we are simply sharing with you our personal methods (or partial methods) of training, and these writings may leave out many and varied particular actions or reactions of both the animal and the human counterparts during the training, so should not be considered as an exact training criteria for training an animal to a particular behavior. It is unfortunate in our society that we have to put this waiver here, as this should be common sense, but nontheless, thank you for reading it.

How do we start training our zebras to GROUND TRAINING so that they can pull a cart?

Pre-requisites: Haltering, leading, bit training, lunging (and or hot walker training), putting on the harness, leading with harness on, leading with bridle on, touching all over and gently rubbing with lunge whip and lunge whip line, touching our zebra all over with our hands, lifting its tail, putting our hand under its tail, picking up all four feet, having full respect at halter, such as turning on the forehand, turning on the hindquarters, backing and in-hand trail training. If we don't have ALL of the above done with our zebra we DO NOT do any of the following until we do! But having gotten this far - it's easy to go the rest of the way! Many questions come in on training the pre-requisites - COMING SOON!

There are several steps to ground training in preparation to pull a cart. One is to teach the zebra to move forward at the walk, trot, whoa, and back on command, in hand. This is done first with a halter and lead. We recommend the commonly touted rope halters which can be custom made to fit our zebra. (how we teach this to follow, sorry, the cart is being put before the zebra) Step two is to teach the zebra to lunge and/or to go on the hot walker and maintain the same response to the commands while travelling in a circle around you. (The only reason we use a circle is so that the humans can take fewer and slower steps - it really doesn't matter to the zebra if he is moving in a straight line or in a circle, except that in a circle we also have a slight control advantage when initally needed by the animals head being turned slightly inward because it is travelling in a circle.) Zebras respond extremely well to verbal commands and generally learn much more quickly than horses, so we need to make sure our verbal cues are given at exactly the right time, and that the zebra learns to respond to our cues immediately after we give them, or they will have no meaning. It is also imperative not to 'irritate' our zebra by improper skills and/or timing, or repetative or unnecessary actions or verbalizations that dilute the technical requirements and verbal cues to obscurity.

During the course of teaching our zebra to lunge or go on the hot walker, or in the round pen, we start using our lunge whip to rub our zebra all over. When that is acceptable to it we gently throw the rope part over our zebra's back, on its hips, its neck, and rub the lunge whip under its belly and behind the hocks, both above and below, as well as rub it on its chest. We do this while our zebra is comfortable at a walk, then advance to doing it at the trot. Of course, we first must do this while the zebra is on a lead standing with us prior to the introduction at the walk and trot. So our lunge whip is NOT a weapon to get our animal JUST to do a certain behavior for us, like trotting on. We use it as a petting tool so that it is simply an extension of our own hands, then we can use it as an extension of our own hand to move our animal forward or backward as well, and there will not be any FEAR of it, just respect for us in asking the animal to move on, just as if we put our hand on its back and asked it to move forward. This exercise will get our zebra accustomed to both the harness touching it as well as the long reins. When our zebra ignores the touch and continues to walk at the correct pace, and ignores the touch and continues to trot at the correct pace, we are ready to move on to the next step.

Once our zebra makes just 3 circles around us in each direction and has responded to our verbal cues correctly, to walk, and to trot, and to accept touch from our lunge whip without it jumping or kicking or paying any attention to it, it is ready to move on to the next step. We don't bore our zebra with repeated and continuous sameness in training or it will object. A zebra wants a reason to do something, like a mule or donkey.

Our next step will be to simply use two long lines attached to the halter, making sure the lines don't get tangled up in its feet. (We need to be a little talented here - we would never work at training a zebra to ground drive unless we already knew how to train and had ground driven horses a lot) We want a little contact on the halter, but not enough to have a constant pull; the right amount would be just enough to hold the lines in the air to about lower shoulder level and hock level on the animal.

At this point we need a helper that both we and our zebra can trust, and that knows something about driving. We use the assistant no longer than necessary when training, so that the zebra does't get used to having someone at its head and feel that the person should always be there. When we say 'whoa' the helper should stop, gently asking the zebra to stop. At the SAME TIME as the helper stops, we should gently pull back on our long lines, letting the zebra know what 'whoa' means when those lines are attached to it. (Of course, we already taught our zebra what whoa means in lead training, so this is no surprise to our zebra.) Once again, we ask the 'zebra' to 'walk'. Then we ask the 'zebra' to 'trot'. The helper should trot as well. Then ask for a 'walk', then for another 'whoa'. We NEVER SLAP the lines to ask our zebra to move forward. That is what a driving whip is for and should only be used to gently touch the hip of the zebra AFTER we have given the verbal cue and if the zebra does not immediately respond. Because of all our previous 'touch' training the zebra will not be afraid of the driving whip, but he understands we want something more of him.

Once our zebra has responded 3 times correctly to each of the verbal cues, the 'walk', 'trot', 'whoa', 'gee',(right turn) 'haw',(left turn) and 'back' (one step is enough first, then work on two, then three steps back) WE MUST MAKE SURE we immediately relax the lines when he steps back with each foot as a reward for stepping back, then ask again, release, etc. Our zebra will not see any reason for stepping back 10 steps, so we don't ask it in the early days of training. Just one step back with one leg is great for the first try. We gradually increase the number of steps required over a few days time.

Now it is time to put our zebra back on the hot walker (no power, loose belt) or into the round pen, without a human helper this time. Our helper could walk a few steps from the zebra for a short distance to get it started if we like, but we don't want our zebra becoming dependant on having someone at the lead. We repeat all the verbal cues, and go around about 3 times in each direction - remember that the more we use the verbal cues and interchange them, the more training we are getting done; just walking or trotting around and around is not effectively ground training our zebra. Change direction with 'gee'(right hand turn), and 'haw' (left hand turn) regularly, making sure we are adept at keeping the lines true.

Our next step is to put the bridle with bit on our zebra, and simply repeat all the same as above to the tune of about 3 times in each direction with much use of the cues and regular but varied changes of gait and direction.

We are now ready to put the simplest form of the harness on the zebra, the sircingle, the breast collar, and the crupper, with the bridle. Of course, before we can put the crupper on, we have already been touching our zebra's butt and lifting its tail in the grooming process, the bathing process, and all our daily routines with our zebra, as well as having separated the crupper from the harness, and have been placing it under the tail so our zebra is already used to it, RIGHT? Of course we have, or we will not get the crupper on.

The final step before we begin work with the cart is to put the entire harness on and work with our zebra several times with everything attached, first in the round pen, then leaving the round pen and working in an arena or open area and being able to maintain total control at the walk, trot, whoa, gee, haw, and back, as well as working obstacles, such as walking over a tarp, walking through a little wet patch on the ground, turning around obstacles, driving through and backing up between poles, etc. One of the obstacles we will work around is the cart, parked for the zebra to see and walk around.

Well, are we ready for the cart now? NO, WE DON'T JUST GO HOOK UP THE CART AS THE NEXT STEP!


Nancy spent about 15 minutes with Xena in this, her first session of ground driving in harness on the hot walker (not turned on, it simply moves with Xena as she travels the 40 foot diameter and keeps her in the approximate range should she not understand a cue.) In this session, Xena didn't misunderstand anything, and when Jim took over the reins for a few minutes, she continued on perfectly, changing direction, both 'gee' and 'haw', and 'whoa'ing' with gentle cues each time. She is moving forward at a medium flat footed walk.(We like more than one person to be able to work with our zebras, so we put each knowledgeable person with them after each step to familiarize the zebra with more than one person's handling, and voice cues. You will note we use two different colors of long lines so we don't confuse our left from our right during the training.)We'll try to start taking more pics during the training too, and put them up - we know a picture is worth...something or other, lol.

All of our babies are trained to respect, halter, lead, lunge, hot walker, and have their feet trimmed before you get them! Yes, you will pay more for a trained zebra, just like for a trained horse! We will also teach every new zebra purchaser the art of how we trained their baby, and we urge continued training with us periodically to progressively turn your little one into a 'trained zebra'. Zebra training is $725 per month including feed.



International Zebra-Zorse-Zonkey Association Link

Zebra Discovery

Zorse and Zonkey Discovery

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