Equine hybrids have been coexisting with human beings for centuries, with the most common domesticated hybrid being, of course, the mule. Mules are a cross between two domestic species of equine, the horse and the donkey. But all equines are genetically compatible with one another, and with this in mind it was really only a matter of time before human beings became curious enough to try out some of the other possible combinations.
A “zorse” is a cross between a zebra stallion and a domesticated mare. Originally bred in Africa in the late 1800s/early 1900s for the dual purpose of developing an exceptionally strong beast of burden that was naturally resistant to diseases spread by the tse tse fly, the feasibility of the zorse cross-breed was soon called into question when the automobile began replacing the horse and mule, and when the zorse proved to be much more difficult to train and handle than its domesticated cousins. The novelty of the type persisted well into the 20th century, however, and by the 1990s zorses were gaining popularity because of their flashy looks and, to a large extent, because of sheer curiosity.
Zorses are one of many possible zebra hybrids; others include the zony (a zebra/pony hybrid) and the zonkey (a zebra/donkey hybrid). In the late 19th century it was even believed that the animal known as a ‘Quagga‘ was actually a distant relative to both horses and zebras. The hebra is a cross between a zebra mare and a domesticated horse stallion, but this type is extremely uncommon not because of genetic feasibility but because domesticated horse stallions are almost always unwilling to breed with zebra mares. All zebra hybrids have similar physical qualities: the typical stripe pattern inherited from the zebra parent, with the coloring and general shape of its domesticated parent.
Zorses are very horse-like in appearance, with zebra striping typically covering the entire body, though sometimes only on the legs and withers. The zorse gets its coloring from the dominant color gene of its mother, with zebra striping from its father. The zebra stripe patterns are only visible on solid coat colorsâ€”for this reason, zebra stallions are almost always bread to chestnut, bay, palomino or similarly solid colored mares (a cross between a gray mare and a zebra will produce offspring with a striped pattern that will fade over time). The zebra striping does not appear on depigmented areas, so a cross to a paint mare will produce a paint pattern, with the zebra striping appearing on the solid colors and the white areas remaining white.
Unlike mules, which are crosses between two domesticated equines, the zorse still retains much of the wild behavior of its African ancestors. Zorses tend to be aggressive and are notoriously difficult to train, so should not be purchased or ridden by novice equestrians. The “flight or fight” response in a zorse is very well developed, similar to that of a zebra, which are regularly hunted by predators such as lions, cheetahs and wild dogs. A zorse will spook with greater frequency and greater severity than a domesticated horse, and will become aggressive if it feels it can’t escape whatever is threatening it.
With proper handling and training a zorse can be taught almost any equine discipline, but enthusiasts say they excel especially at jumping and trail riding. To thrive, a zorse needs a patient handler he or she does not feel threatened by. With proper care a zorse’s lifespan is similar to that of a horse; zorses can live into their 30s although, like mules, they are almost always sterile and incapable of having offspring of their own.
The zorse is very strong, approximately two to three times stronger than a horse. Depending upon which species of zebra and which breed of horse are bred, this hybrid could be pony sized to horse sized, have the bone size of a pony or of a horse, or of a draft if the zebra was bred to a draft horse. The mane may stand up like the zebra, or, more often, fall over like the horse. The mane generally does not become long. The zorse should be well balanced, with all parts of the body looking as if they ‘belong’ to the other parts.
The Zorse is, on average, between 13 – 16 hands tall.
Any horse color, including black or darker than base color striping. The striping may or may not be full striping throughout the legs and/or body, but more striping is preferred. White on the legs, face and/or pinto coloring is acceptable.
The zorse should look be well muscled and look strong, have straight legs, be well balanced, and have a likeness to the horse breed and the zebra specie it was bred from. Short, thick necks are frowned upon, unless the horse parent’s breed standard allows for a short and/or thick neck. The judge should ask what the parents breed types are when the animal is being judged.
The zorse is to be considered more like a zebra than a horse in characteristics and temperament. Training will be successful by training the zorse the same way as the zebra should be trained. The zorse is like a ‘one man dog’ in that it chooses one best friend who should be the person who trains the zorse and who handles it on a daily basis. Zorses are not a child’s equine, no matter how small the animal.
Members of this breed often excel in the following disciplines:
Zorses were first bred at the turn of the 19th century in South Africa in a government sponsored program. The intent was to use them for beasts of burden, along with zebras and zonkeys, as the horse was used in other parts of the world. The program had a short life as the automobile was introduced in the early 1900’s, and then it was aborted.
The zorse takes the color of the base coat of the horse, and will take black points and/or striping from the zebra. The zorse is to be considered infertile.