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Zebras Are Just Striped Horses

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"Why didn't the first humans ride out of Africa on the backs of zebras to conquer the world? Because zebras are bastards."
Why Zebra are Terrible Horses by CGP Grey, explaining why this trope doesn't work in real life.

In real life, zebras are considered wild equines, but are not the same as horses found in other parts of the world. In fact, the zebra is more closely related to the African wild ass (the ancestor of the donkey) than to horses. You won't see a zebra at a stable or participating in a horse race. Zebras can be tamed, insofar as they can be raised to tolerate humans around themselves, but they're not domesticated like horses or even donkeys, and have never been successfully trained to bear riders or pull loads. Zebra and domestic equines can be bred to produce hybrids called a zeedonk (zebra+donkey) or a zorse (zebra+horse), but the offspring tend to be infertile.

On the other hand, some media depicts zebras as being more similar to their domesticated counterparts than they actually are. When this trope is in play, a zebra will be seen alongside horses and even acting like them. People may ride on them or hitch them to chariots, or they may appear as the "horse" half of a centaur. This is particularly common for African countries or Africa-derived Fantasy Counterpart Cultures, which are often shown using zebras as an exotic alternative for horses.

A common variant is that zebras make horselike neighing and whinnying sounds, more like a high-pitched bray, instead of their own unique vocalization. Another variant is to portray zebras with horse-like tails, while real zebra tails are longer and have shorter hairs, akin to those of donkeys, or with horselike manes instead of the short, bristly manes of the real animal.

Compare Horse of a Different Color, for when animals other than horses are used as steeds and pack animals. Related to All Animals Are Domesticated and could be considered an equine version of All Animals Are Dogs, White-Tailed Reindeer, and Penguins Are Ducks.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Asterix: In Asterix and the Chariot Race, Princesses Nefersaynefer and Kweenlatifer from the kingdom of Kush use zebras instead of horses to pull their chariot.
  • The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck: Scrooge, at the time stranded in the African wilderness, considers riding a zebra as if it was a horse, even calling it a striped horse, but opts for a lion instead. Justified in that he hadn't been in South Africa for long — and he had been using a horse-driven cart before it was stolen.
  • Rulah, Jungle Goddess: Rulah often uses a zebra as her personal mount.
  • Saga: While on the planet Pervious, Alana rides a white, zebra-like animal with orange stripes at the front that fade to grey at the back.

    Films — Animation 
  • Babar: The Movie: The elephants and rhinos use zebras to pull carriages. Apparently, these zebras are strong enough to carry the weight of elephants and rhinos.
  • Dumbo: The zebras pull a carriage during the circus parade.
  • Fantasia: The "Pastoral Symphony" sequence features a pair of African centaurs whose equine half is that of a zebra.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Greatest Showman: Barnum and his family are shown riding in a coach driven by a pair of zebras when he takes them to their new mansion. Careful examination reveals them to be horses painted to look like zebras, a classic example of Barnum being, well, The Barnum.
  • The Legend of Tarzan: Discussed and subverted. Tarzan tells George Washington Williams that, while a horse will just throw you off its back, a zebra will go on kicking you until it kills you.
  • Racing Stripes: A zebra by the name of Stripes is trained to take part in a horse race. In real life, this trope was very much not the case in filming, as lead actress Hayden Panettiere was thrown off the zebra used in filming.
  • Sheena: The titular heroine rides on a zebra, which was a white horse painted with black stripes.

    Live-Action TV 

  • Cthulhu Mythos: Some tales of the Mythos set in the Dreamlands mention the use of zebras as mounts for cross-country travel. Possibly a self-enforced example: because so many waking humans accept this trope's premise, the zebras of Dreamland may behave more like horses than actual wild zebras, the better to accord with dreamers' expectations.
  • Julius Zebra: Played with. The first book shows a comparison between horses and zebras, and Julius is called a stripy horse in some parts. The third book has Julius and Brutus race against horses in a chariot race.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Zorses are a black-and-white striped species of equine from Essos. It's not clear if they're supposed to be real-world zebras, a fictional species similar to a zebra, or a cross between a zebra and a horse. Whatever they are, they can be ridden in battle, and there's an entire culture of people Born in the Saddle who use them as mounts.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Aesheba Greek Africa, a system-neutral RPG product released under Gary Gygax's short-lived "Fantasy Masters" label, depicted both natives and classical Greek immigrants using zebras to draw their chariots. The product did, at least, concede that zebras do not accept riders.
  • Spears of the Dawn, a game set in a fantasy version of ancient Africa, mentions one kingdom as fielding units of zebra-riding cavalry. This is despite the fact that horses are perfectly common in the setting.

    Video Games 
  • Animal Crossing has a zebra villager named Savannah who's just a retextured horse.
  • Equestria at War: Largely averted; zebras are treated as different from ponies, with a different racial tech tree and different unique special units compared to the four species of pony. But the mad esoteric fascists of the Ascendancy in Colthage do lump zebras and ponies together as "Equinity" in their crazy pseudo-biological and spiritual caste system. Because so much of their beliefs are built around genocidal racism towards "Avians," the existence of pegasi and hippogriffs do cause some confusing issues.
  • Heroes of Might and Magic IV: Heroes from the nature-themed Preserve faction use zebras as steeds.
  • Heroes of the Storm has a Zebra mount, which is organized under horses in the collection. Its flavour text even lampshades this:
    While zebras are in the equid family, they're technically not horses. I'm just sayin'.
  • Minecraft: Played With in the Wildlife Safari behavior pack. The zebras don't neigh like horses, they bray like donkeys.
  • Red Dead Redemption 2: Played With, Lampshaded, and Subverted. One side mission involves finding a zebra belonging to a traveling circus show headed by a moustahioed British man named Margaret. The zebra sounds like a mule, and in fact turns out to be one painted as a zebra.
  • Viva Piñata: When a Horstachio (Horse) consumes blackberries and daisies, it will turn into a Zumbug (Zebra). This is the only way to get the zebra piñata.
  • World of Warcraft has the Zhevra, a unicorn-like zebra, which runs wild in the in-game equivalent of the African savanna, but can also be seen anywhere else as a mount, once available to any player.
  • Zoo Tycoon: The first game inverts this trope. For some reason the developers made unicorns "bark" like zebras instead of neighing.

    Western Animation 
  • The Hair Bear Bunch: In "Ark Lark", the Bunch uses shoe polish to disguise Stripes the Zebra as a horse and enter him in a horse race.
  • The Lion Guard makes the mistake of using horse noises for zebras. Interestingly, in "The Zebra Mastermind", the zebra Thurston was referred to as a donkey with stripes, alluding to the fact zebras are closely related to donkeys.
  • Looney Tunes: Parodied. In one cartoon, Daffy Duck lets a baby zebra out of the bag into Porky Pig's house. Said zebra foal sounds like a horse for comedic effect.
  • Mickey Mouse (2013): A one point in the episode "Safari, So Good", the zebras sound like donkeys.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Subverted. In "Bridle Gossip", ponies initially think that Zecora, a zebra, is just a weird-colored pony; Twilight is the only one who knows what a zebra is. Zecora also acts very differently from the ponies (which leads them to mistakenly believe that she is a witch). While her affinity for potions and rhyming are cultural, the part where she paws at the ground is a real difference between ponies and zebras. Horses paw at the ground as a threat display, while zebras just do it to look for water.
  • Peppa Pig makes the mistake of using horse noises for zebras; Zoe the zebra will let out a "Neigh!" instead of a "Bark!"

    Real Life 
  • Humans have tried to domesticate zebras for centuries. While there have been many zebras that were successfully tamed over the years, true domestication has never been achieved — by and large, zebras are too nervous, aggressive and difficult to train out of biting anyone that comes close to be easily domesticated. There was a very promising candidate in the Quagga, a very distinctive type of zebra with a brown back and incomplete striping, but sadly it was driven extinct. If that didn't happen, we might very well have domesticated zebras by now.
  • The Victorian nobleman and zoologist Walter Rothschild, who clearly had time on his hands, attempted to domesticate zebra foals, creating a team of six that he used to draw his coach. He never tried to ride them, though — zebras are too small to easily bear riders for more than a little while.