By Nancy Jaffer
February 21, 2016
Growing up in Saddle River, B.J. Ehrhardt was a star junior rider. Yet her life wasn’t complete; for some reason, she decided she needed a zebra.
“I’ve always wanted one since I was a small child. They totally intrigued me,” recalled B.J.
Visiting them in zoos wasn’t satisfactory.
“You can’t even touch them,” she explained. “I had to own one someday.”
Some people discouraged her, citing their own experiences with “mean” zebras.
Then, while spending the winter in Wellington, Fla., the professional hunter/jumper trainer ran into a man riding a zebra. It sounds like the beginning of a joke (“A man and a zebra walk into a bar…”) but it isn’t–I’ve seen him too.
“I stopped him,” reported B.J.
“He said he trained them for the movies, and told her they were indeed trainable.”
That was music to her ears, and it moved her to action.
She did research and found zebras for sale at Tri-Lake Exotics in Texas. The company, owned by veterinarian Dr. Cathy Cranmore and her husband, Don Osborne, also sells kangaroos and camels, among other unusual pets, but B.J. has no ideas in that direction.
Her heart was just set on a zebra, and as soon as Tri-Lake said they had one for her, she flew to Dallas and drove two hours to the “middle of nowhere” to meet him.
“When I pulled up, I knew this guy was meant for me,” she recalled.
“There he was, standing in the paddock by himself. I put my hand out and he came right to me.”
She spent two days learning how to work with the month-old Grant’s zebra and lead him. He was separated from his mother at a day old and bottle-fed, to help him adjust to humans. Tri-Lakes’ owners thought B.J. would be fine with her zebra foal; after all, she knew horses, and zebras also are members of the equus genus.
I asked Cathy, who of course has sold many other zebras, why people buy them.
“It’s something different, something everybody doesn’t have. Some people want a different breed of dog than the other guy,” she pointed out.
With the zebras, it’s a case of , “not everybody has one, not everybody can do something with one. That makes you special.”
B.J. had planned to have the zebra taken to her Foxhedge Farm in Goshen, N.Y., via a shipper. But it was getting colder, and the Tri-Lake owners advised her he needed to be kept warm on the journey. They suggested that she transport him in a van with heat that went to the back.
So she rented a Dodge mini-van, put a rubber mat in the back, covered it with shavings and set off with her young charge, now named Ziggy. She fed the baby zebra with a bottle every four hours, bonding with him while a friend drove the van. The big trucks going by made the little guy nervous, but he eventually got used to it and rode like a champ.
She heated the barn and his stall until it was time for Ziggy and her clients to head for warmer climes. It can get chilly in Wellington, so the four-month old zebra has thick blankets to wear when necessary in a little shed he shares with a mini-horse, Zeus, and a giant stuffed toy zebra. He used to rub against the toy, but as he has adjusted and become friends with Zeus, he has become more independent.
“He’s been amazing,” said B.J., who plans on bringing him to horse shows with her as often as possible, and at home, giving him as much of a chance to run free as she can.
She already has put a small saddle on Ziggy, who eagerly follows B.J. when she jumps over a pole on the ground, picking up his knees to clear the obstacle.Beyond riding Ziggy, B.J. is interested in using him for “some sort of give-back to the community; some sort of charity. I just d
on’t know what yet.
“I’ve had people talk to me about writing a book about him, about his adventures as he grows up.” Meanwhile, she gets loads of comments from people who have seen his pictures on her facebook page. One is a sick little boy who wakes up every morning, looking for a facebook post from Ziggy.
B.J. enjoys romping with her zebra, who also likes to race around the arena at the Wellington farm where she spends the winter. Ziggy plays not only with Zeus and B.J., but also with B.J.’s dog, a border collie/heeler combo named Brandy. The two are good friends
There are advantages to having a zebra over a horse. Although B.J. can pick up Ziggy’s feet, she’s been told he doesn’t need to have regular farrier visits because his little black hooves trim themselves when he walks over a hard service. Colic also is unusual among zebras, who can live to between 20 and 30 years old.
B.J. does everything she does with any of her foals to teach him manners, but she spends more time with him than she would with a colt or filly. He’s good with other people, though he’s not fond of small children screaming and running.
He and B.J. have quite a link. They love to nuzzle each other, and he nearly smiles when she scratches him in a favorite spot, then gives him a carrot.
B.J.is all smiles herself when she interacts with Ziggy, who often hangs out with her when she’s teaching, or when she’s relaxing with a drink on the patio.
“He needs real attention, so he stays nice,” said B.J. who enjoys spending hours with him after all the years she waited for her zebra wish to come true.
“I believe in doing all the things you want to do in life,” she said.
“Nothing holds me back. And this is one of those things, it was just always a dream, and I’m so glad I did this.”