It is tempting to say, oh a zebra is just a horse that got itself some stripes. Or, a horse is a zebra that lost its stripes. Funny as these might sound, they are not facts. A horse and a zebra, although similar, have a lot of differences.
- 1 Origin and classification
- 2 Similarities between zebras and horses
- 3 Differences between zebras and horses
Origin and classification
Zebras and horses belong to the same family in the genetic pyramid. Both are members of the Equidae family. However, they are different species altogether but do have a few similarities as well. Zebras are native to Africa and are found in huge numbers there. Horses, on the other hand, are found in different parts of the world
Similarities between zebras and horses
The same family origin has been assigned to these animals in the classification chart for a reason. Both look similar in many ways. They are four-legged hoofed creatures. Both the zebra and the horse sleep standing up.
Both these animals are herbivores that feed on leaves and grasses when in the wild. Zebra and horse are both wild creatures, to begin with. While the zebra chooses to remain wild, horses have adapted to domestication majorly.
Zebras and horses even have similar teeth structures and are both mammals. They have long heads and manes, which differ in size.
Differences between zebras and horses
Zebras consist of three existing species. These are the Grevy’s zebra, mountain zebra, and plains zebra. Each of these has different characteristics that mark them out as different species of the same animal. The Grevy’s zebra is found in the grasslands of Kenya and Ethiopia. The mountain zebras are species special to South Africa, Angola, and Namibia. The plains zebra is found in southern and eastern Africa.
Horses on the other hand have been developed into more than 400 different breeds found all over the world. Names like Holsteiner, Belgian Draft, and Appaloosa are some of the most famous horse breeds. While breeds look different from each other and these differences are their specialty, they all belong to one species. Equus caballus is the species name to which horses world over belong to.
The first point that strikes everyone about the appearance of these two creatures is the stripes. A zebra is marked out by its black and white striped appearance, and every zebra has the same combination of colors. The stripe distribution might vary but it is black and white always. Horses come in different colors and patterns. The most common colors are black, gray, chestnut, and white. Horses might have small white markings in parts of their bodies. This sets them apart from each other.
Zebras are similar to donkeys in appearance, conformation, and relation wise too. With their flat backs, long ears, and mohawk manes, they are more donkey. Horses have flowing manes and curved backs that make them more suited to carry humans.
Other visual differences that are clearer on close inspection are the ears, tail, legs, and hooves. Zebras have more rounded ears compared to horses. They also have shorter tails with hair tufts at the end compared to the flowing tails of horses. With shorter legs compared to horses, they have overall stout bodies. As for their hooves, zebras have smaller, harder and more oval hooves compared to horses.
Zebras as smaller and stand at 10 to 14 hands and their weights vary between 550 to 990 pounds. Horses are more elegantly built and stand from 14 to 17 hands in height. Horses can weigh anywhere from 900 to 1100 pounds.
Zebras have flat backs and are generally not ridden for this reason. Also, they are smaller animals compared to horses, and not suited to carry human loads.
Both the zebra as well as the horse are basically wild animals. However, the zebra has largely remained wild and is rarely domesticated. A horse, on the other hand, is very friendly and amenable to domestication.
It is not easy to train zebras owing to their wild side, literally. This is obviously not true for horses, seeing they have been used for centuries for different purposes by humans. Even after years of training and attempts to tame, a zebra might remain unpredictable in its behavior.
Physiologic and temperament differences mean that zebras very rarely carry humans while horses seem to be naturally good at this.
Human connection and difference
The human connection – the ultimate milestone when it comes to establishing the difference between a zebra and a horse. There is a saying, ‘give a horse what he needs and he will give you his heart in return’. This sums up what a horse means to a human. Horses are extremely intelligent creatures that have been working for and with humans since the beginning of civilization. They have carried people, families, materials, fought wars, won and lost races, performed in sport, and established unwavering loyalty towards humans.
Horses continue to have a thriving and meaningful relationship with their human friends that is cherished by both sides. There are moving anecdotes of people going out of their way to care for their horses in tough times and vice versa. These fabulous creatures have featured in books and movies. Black Beauty is an example in point and a moving tribute to the human-equine relationship.
This cannot be said of the zebra. A creature of the wild, it remains that way. There are rare instances of zebras getting close to humans or forging a sort of interactive relationship. Zebras chose to remain and retain their place in the wild and stand apart from horses in this sense.
With their stocky bodies and build, zebras are not made for races. They are much slower than horses. Although agile and fast runners in the wild when chased, they do not make race animals. Zebras also lack the grace and finesse that a horse naturally possesses.
Horses on the other hand are elegant and beautiful animals that are made for races and other fine equestrian sports. They have sleek bodies and aesthetically pleasing outlines, manes, and tails that add to the overall look.
Vocalization and diet
There are similarities and differences between these two animals when it comes to diet as well as vocalization. While both are herbivores, horses love munching on grass. They are generally brought up on a special grass diet that provides them with all the power and energy they need. Zebras are grass eaters as well but they can switch to shrubs and bushes as available in the wild.
All animals have their own manner of vocalization. This is their means of communicating with the rest of the herd. They also have physical touch and rubbing against each other by way of communicating but the sound remains an important means. Horses whinny to do so while zebras, more in keeping with their wild nature, make barking sounds. This is in order to keep the herd aware of dangers in the wild.
A combination made by humans
Trust man to try and fuse qualities of two varied species but same family. There are two different variations that have been created. The first case is the mating of a zebra stallion with a horse mare. It is named a zorse. In the second case, the exact opposite is done and the result is named hebra.
Zorses are sterile, bigger than zebras, and have color variations. They are also easier to ride compared to zebras.
These are both experimental creatures that are not sustainable and are neither horse nor zebra.
Horses, zebras, and movies
When we talk about differences between these creatures, folklore, and movies do come into the picture. One might wonder why, since the discussion, all this time has been about technicalities.
There are multiple books and movies on horses and their close relationship with humans. Black Beauty remains the reference point for this. The Horse and His Boy, The Black Stallion Legend, and many other books and movies have centered around horses.
Trojan Horse became part of folklore about how horses have been in very close human contact from ancient times. Ancient to modern art, painting and sculpture have focused on horses more than zebras ever. All of this has been because of an enduring and endearing love for them.
This is not to say that zebras have not been wanted by humans. It is just their nature that has kept these magnificent animals a bit aloof from human company. Khumba and the Madagascar series of movies have featured zebras too. However, by sheer numbers, horses have scored over zebras every time.
A group of zebras is called ‘dazzle’ and they are truly a dazzling sight. In a combination of black and white with a confident gait and a definite wild side, they are a sight to behold. A group of horses is called a team or a string or a stud (for a group that is for breeding).
As can be seen, there are enough differences between these magnificent creatures. Each in its own way enriches the natural diversity we have been blessed with.