Can You Ride a Zebra?
Zebras are stunning. They look like small, beautifully stylish horses, and perhaps, if you’re an insatiably curious person like me, you’ve asked yourself, “Can a zebra be ridden?” They are Africa’s equine representatives after all. Has anyone ever tried to saddle up and ride off on them into the sunset?
I’ll never forget the very first time I saw zebras or “zebra” if you prefer. (Both versions of the plural are in the dictionary.) After flying over vast Kenyan landscapes in a tiny plane, I already felt overawed and giddy to be in this extraordinary place. I remember being loaded into a safari vehicle feeling like I was in some kind of vivid, Out of Africa dream. The vehicle took off bumping along over rutted dirt roads with dust flying and our guide calling for everyone to “Hold on!”
Suddenly I was in the middle of a herd of wildebeest, maybe a hundred, all running right next to our truck. Gosh, they were odd looking! As I was trying to figure them out, about fifteen zebras came running around the herd. And then antelope plus elephants were on my left! I realized I had no context for what I was seeing. Meryl Streep and The Lion King had not prepared me for Amboseli National Park.
Seeing zebras on the East African savanna is a once in a lifetime experience and I’m incredibly grateful for my time there. Still, gushing about my amazing trip which was very similar to The Heart of Kenya and Tanzania program on our website, is not going to help you find out whether or not you can ride a Zebra. Let’s cut to the chase, so to speak.
The answer to this burning question is: zebras have been ridden and can be ridden yet you really don’t want to ride one because they are small, aggressive, slow, unpredictable, and have flat backs not suitable for a saddle. They’re just not as able and biddable as their Asian and European horse relatives.
Throughout history, people have tried to ride zebras. In 200 AD Rome, zebras are said to have pulled chariots during amphitheater games. In the late 19th century, the zoologist Walter Rothschild trained some of his zoo zebras to draw a carriage in England, which he drove to Buckingham Palace just to prove that it could be done.
American explorer, filmmaker, and author Osa Johnson rode zebras on multiple occasions while traveling through Africa with her husband during the early 1900s. In the early 20th century, German colonial officers in East Africa tried to use zebras for both driving and riding, with limited success.
Overall, pesky zebras were just too ornery and too small to be worth the trouble of domesticating so humans have mostly left them alone.
One theory is that living on the savanna with so many large predators has made them very aggressive. People have successfully bred zebras with donkeys and horses producing a “zonky” or a “zorse”. Both of these animals have been easier to domesticate than zebras.
So now you know. Yet before I sign off, I want to mention that beautiful, spunky, undomesticated zebras are a vulnerable species. The International Union for Conservation of Nature reports that “as of 2019, the IUCN Red List of mammals lists the Grévy's zebra as endangered, the mountain zebra as vulnerable and the plains zebra as near-threatened.
Grévy's zebra populations are estimated at less than 2,000 mature individuals, but they are stable. Mountain zebras number nearly 35,000 individuals and their population appears to be increasing.
Plains zebras are estimated to number 150,000–250,000 with a decreasing population trend. Human intervention has fragmented zebra ranges and populations. Zebras are threatened by hunting for their hide and meat, and habitat destruction. They also compete with livestock and have their traveling routes obstructed by fences. Civil wars in some countries have also caused declines in zebra populations.”
Like so many exquisite animals, zebras need our care and protection. The operators we have selected to work with here at Wild Nectar are passionate about conservation and your visit to eastern or southern Africa to see zebras on programs like The Grand Safari, Kenya & Tanzania: Traveling Overland or our Kenya Walking Safari could strengthen their conservation efforts. Contact us and we’ll help you find the perfect safari for photographing the wild zebra.