Can You Ride Zebras? Everything You Need to Know

How many of you thought Zebras are just horses with stripes? Well, we see many hands raised to agree, it’s okay, we did too, initially. Every time, returning home after a visit to the zoo, there is a certain urge to ride zebras but one has rarely seen Zebras ridden by humans.

Zebras, horses, and donkeys belong to the same family, however, by no means, it should be interpreted as Zebras can do all things that horses can. Can humans ride zebras? That’s the frequently asked question on the internet about the striped animal.

It is difficult to tell, at first glance and it is more complicated than you anticipate it to be. Have you seen the movie Racing Stripes? It’s a kid’s film where a young girl vows to tame and race zebras. It seems pretty fascinating, isn’t it? Even if you want to embark on a similar mission.

Indigenous to Central and South Africa, Zebras belong to the genus equine, including donkeys and horses. The only thing separating Zebras from the aforementioned species is the stripes and some personality traits. 

This similarity in appearance led many people to believe that they can ride zebras as well. However, the outcome was not as they desired. 

Can You Ride Zebras?

No, You can not ride zebras, There is a reason why you have not seen Zebras ridden by humans, it’s because they lack the temperament of a horse. Even after several attempts, humans could not manage to employ zebras for riding, drawing, and carrying. 

Zebras are wild animals and they act like it. This free-spirited animal could not be tamed or domesticated like other members of the family. Zebras have spent their whole life cagily watching, evading, and fighting savannah predators. It reflects in their behavior as well, this has turned them into nervous, flighty, and brutally aggressive animals.

Horses have undergone domestication whereas Zebras have chosen to stay wild. In simple words, it means you can not expect and force Zebra to behave like a horse. It’s just not possible. 

Why Humans Don’t Ride Zebras?

Zebras are aggressive and dangerous, few of them are an exception. Their aggressive behavior is the reason humans fear going near them. Zebras are not for the average person, even skilled equestrians have struggled to work with Zebras, let alone riding.

Humans fear their strong fight instincts which make them react with ferocity instantly, they reply with a bite or a kick. Riding zebras is too much work, often the result is not what you desire to be. 

Why It is Not a Good Idea to Ride Zebras?

We get it, you like Zebras and want to ride them, hate to burst your bubble, you are wishing for the impossible. It’s not the lack of trying that we do not ride Zebras today, it’s just that Zebras are hell-bent on not changing their habitat, personality, or their stance on letting a human ride in them. Zebras become aggressive when told what to do or trying to mold them into something they can not do.

In the wild, life is cruel, most animals have only two options; fight or flight, decisions are instant which have caused a major change in Zebra’s behavior. Zebras often choose the flight response when a predator comes, when confined in a place for training where they can not flee, their fight response ultimately increases. Which makes them aggressive, fierce, and not docile enough to ride.

Why We Gave Up on the Idea of Riding Zebras?

When human colonization spread to Africa, Zebras seemed like a perfect hybrid to be used for transportation in the region just like their cousin horses. Zebras were familiar with the humans and their ways as many cavemen hunted them.

Zebras considered humans as predators and developed the instincts and reflexes to survive attacks from numerous predators, including humans. Read a complete guide about other predators of zebras. With the knowledge of human tendencies, this behavioral instinct became part of their brain’s physiology. Ever since then, Zebras could not trust and knew very well what they were capable of.

Humans attempted several times to domesticate the fascinating beasts but all in vain. Almost all humans failed and surrendered to their unpredictable nature and undying spirit. Zebras do not fit the domestication criteria set by the humans, they have realized that this beautiful animal is nomadic, and staying in territories seems impossible.


Attempts Made By Walter Rothschild To Train And Ride Zebras

There were widespread attempts made by several equestrians and Zoologists. One of the most worth mentioning attempts is made by the eccentric zoologist, Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild.

He put a lot of time and effort proving their viability by training them to pull carriages, eventually driving a carriage drawn by six Zebras to Buckingham Palace. However, he could not go so far as to tame them to ride. 

Rothschild realized riding Zebras was not practical because of a couple of reasons which his predecessor and others would learn later on; firstly, they are small animals with backs not strong enough to support the weight of a man. 

Secondly, they do not live or evolved in tamer temperate regions rather in areas where the lion is the main predator and they have to continuously survive attacks.

Jimmy – The Rideable Zebra

As we mentioned earlier, there are some Zebras who are exceptions to the rule. In 1935, a dwarf riding a zebra appeared across a road in Berkshire, England. It created quite a scene as this was an unknown phenomenon. Laffin Leslie, an 18-year-old dwarf was riding the tamed Zebra known as Jimmy. It was famously known as “the only rideable Zebra in the world”. 

Another incident happened in 1923 where Mrs. Martin Johnson was seen riding a zebra named Bromar. Photos of these two popular incidents are a testament that this was not an old wives’ tale but happened in reality.

Is It Impossible to Ride Zebras?

We would associate the word ‘nearly impossible’ with riding zebras. You may have already seen videos of people domesticating cockroaches to a 9ft grizzly bear but there is a noticeable difference between domestication and taming an animal.

Training methods of making it eligible for riding are cruel and often not fruitful. There can only be a handful of Zebras in history that have been ridden by some equestrians. 


Why We Can Not Ride Zebras Like Horses?

It would be aesthetically pleasing riding a zebra on vast grasslands but this wild animal is not the best riding buddy as compared to a horse. To argue that, you may say why we see humans riding Zebras in movies, as we know most movies are far from logic and not everything we see on TV is true. Painted horses are used to film such scenes. Read a complete guide on Zebras vs Horses to understand their riding difference.

Making Zebra your equestrian partner can be risky for the one attempting to do so. Even the cute Zebras you see in the zoo can only be admired from afar.

Aggressive Nature

Horses are docile and have a mild manner, you can tell they have trouble developing bonds with humans just by looking at them. Zebras have aggressive behavior and unpredictable nature. You can never guess what’s going on in their mind, predict what their next mischievous move will be.

Hostility, aggressiveness, and unpredictability are what you expect from a wild animal. With age, instead of calming down and taking a step back, there is an increase in aggression. For this reason alone, trying to ride zebras can lead to a bloody ending.

Defense Mechanism

Living in the plains of Africa and among the deadliest predators, Zebras have developed defense mechanisms over time. All wild animals have come up with some response or mechanism to counter such a threat. Zebras have come up with the deadliest kick to fight predators in the animal kingdom.

A single kick from Zebra is known to kill a full-grown lion. Even the king of the jungle can not stand against the deadly kick from Zebras, let alone humans. It is highly unlikely that humans can not approach Zebra without getting a fight response. Zebras become nasty and cruel when a stranger creature approaches them.

Size And Shape

Zebras are smaller in size than the horses and their flat back is not ideal to carry a human rider. Zebras are also not big enough or perfectly structured like horses for riding. Their body shape does not allow them to hold the saddle very well. 

Most people have seen Zebras from photos and videos where they can not predict the real size. Unlike horses, they are too small to carry an adult human being. Their back is not build to carry regular loads, let alone a rider. They can not carry tens and tens of kilos of humans, even if they can, they usually do not allow the man in the saddle.

In brief, Zebras do not meet the requirements of a domesticated animal, they are wild animals who live by their own rule. They do not follow social hierarchy or accept humans as their leaders. This makes it almost impossible to tame and ride them.

Hi, I am Waqar and active in the horse world since 2012. I have MSc (Hons) in Agriculture from the University of Agriculture Faisalabad. I love to solve equine health care issues and note down in the form of research papers. I have written hundreds of equine health care, accessories, names, and history-related blogs. My equine related work is watering a lot of horse-related magazines and blogs.

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