A few weeks ago I told you about an Animal Communicator called, Candi Cane, who speaks to the animals… (Here is that link).
Well, one of the photos from that blog featured Candi with a zebra. The owner of that zebra contacted me to thank me for the article. Well…. imagine my joy at having a ZEBRA OWNER in my sights!!! I had to know more about owning/training a zebra so I asked if I could interview her via the Internet.
She said, “SURE!”
I asked if she would send pics and she asked me to just tell her when to stop sending them because she is an animal trainer by trade so she has tons!
I loved that!
So, without further ado… here is the interview with gracious Susan Guillot, who indulged me with her thoughts on “Little Man” the 3-year old zebra.
1) Tell us about donkeys and their ‘triggers’ to pain (elaborate if you’d like):
To create a “base” of safe learning pressure is applied in a broad area of the neck for instance, and by my thumb in the area a shot will be given. As the appropriate reaction is to press into my pressure, as soon as I get that response I release it. Then I continue making the trigger smaller and more “sharp” but always in constant contact that the Zebra controls by pressing back. Now when a needle is introduced, he pushes into it as the needle is inserted-thereby he is in control of the action.
The biggest challenge to training Zebras is their reactivity. Any pain, even an accidental pulled hair, causes them to run in panic. So of they are injured and you try to put any kind of wound treatment that stings or give a shot, they can run away in panic and kill themselves crashing into things. So my training always gives the animals the choice to leave in a controlled area and allow them to come back. Then I build on that to the point of introducing triggers like giving a shot and allowing the animal to chose to put themselves onto the needle for example.
2) How did you acquire Little?
He was purchased by a “broker” who sells them
3) How could someone ‘steal’ a zebra when they are so reactive?
He was in training with me for over 6 months so he had become quite tame. However, the thief did herd him into a trailer by partially dismantling the stall he was in as they could not halter him. I had a specific method where he haltered himself and they of course did not know that.
4) Can you describe his personality?
He is very thoughtful, still easily insulted and very curious. He enjoys learning and seeks me out when I’m in his area. He watches me work with the other animals with a great deal of intensity.
5) People call zebras ‘rank’ and ‘untrainable’ – what do you think they really mean?
HA! there is a saying in Africa that if Zebras could be trained, no one would walk! The problem is the way they think. They are very reactive (a good trait when you get eaten by everything) and run first ask questions later. That behavior becomes increased by forcing them to stay in an uncomfortable place by holding or tying them there. Training a wild animal at liberty is the safest way for both you and the animal but not much is said about that method of training. It requires a very astute trainer who can watch and interprete body language quickly. Allowing a safe retreat allows the animal to feel in control of the environment and learning is now a benefit rather than threatening.
6) Can a zebra be affectionate?
Some of the attached photos definitely show that! Little has been very comfortable with close contact and asks for others to scratch him and “groom” him like they were fellow Zebra. He is a stallion but has been taught appropriate behavior with people so he feels very sure when he puts his head up to you that you understand his intention. When he “asks” for his rear end to be scratched, he is always confused that this makes folks leave!
7) What do you love about Little specifically?
His tenacity. He really tackles learning and fighting his natural reactions with a great deal of effort. I can see him oft times in a bit of a battle with his emotions when I present tough situations. The fact that I have him “thinking it through” instead of bolting away is huge! He is just 3 yrs old and can live into his 30’s so I’m really happy we are in such a good place now. He came to me wild and dangerous. He came to me from the theft, food aggressive and pushy. We are now back to a steady learning curve that is built on mutual respect. No bribery on my part and no demands on his.
8) Does he really trust you or just ‘kind of’?
No doubt he trusts me 100%! I put him into situations where he really needs to rely on my input to figure things out. His need to just leave uncomfortable situations means he has to find a reason to stay and engage in whatever activity I’m asking of him. Without trusting my offers of support, there would be no reason for him to try. Zebras are incredibly strong with huge muscles in their neck. Force usually results in a hard bolt and dragging the handler.
9) Has he been an animal actor yet?
How did you train him for his job? He did an independent film recently and a lot of photo shoots with models who were at first fearful. He still needs to decompress in new environments so I bring out all the folks who will work with him to the parking area and have them handle him a bit and just get acquainted. He is totally cool after that. My training sessions at first were short, 15 minutes at a time. They were built around feeding schedules so that getting his food meant dealing with me. This is different than feeding treats as hay is a part of his normal day to day life and a strong motivator. At that point he would not make eye contact and I was not important. So the initial training was built on “what’s in it for me?” and at first just getting him to attempt to take the hay from an offered flake without trying to bite or kick me! Then the hay was held under my arm and he would to eat it as I touched him. If he left due to the touch I would leave too…with the hay. Now I do not use food as an enticement but rather his favorite scratching points. My initial sessions were 15 minutes ea average and 5-6 x a day.
10) Do Zebras ‘stomp’ cats and dogs like donkeys?
Yes and bite at the same time! No holds barred with these guys and very quick!
11) Describe the noble traits of the zebra.
The wild part never really leaves and it really moves me to be in it’s presence. It’s an old soul thing that is so wise I really feel humble sometimes when I witness that “look”. He looks me in the eye now and reads me better than the horses do! He knows my moods and my expectations like a dance and is immediately engaged when I enter his space. He will look you in the eye as well and immediately reads the truth. People who are fearful he moves slower with and not as close until they calm a bit. He carries his head high and scans his world but with a calm kind of knowing. Pretty cool.
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