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By Cecilia Lang-Ree
Hearts & Hands Animal Rescue is the largest animal sanctuary
in San Diego County, California and the main rescue in the
United States for endangered zebras and Przewalski’s Horses.
The director of the ranch, Nancy Nunke, is considered the United
States’ pre-eminent wild equid trainer and a bonafde “Zebra
Over the last 40 years, she has learned from the zebras how
to communicate with them and has built up a wealth of training
expertise. Because of these skills, Nancy has been featured twice
on RFDTV’s The Horse Show and in several books by Dr. Robert
Miller, DVM, on horse training. Many people travel from all over
the world to come to Nancy’s Friendship Training™ clinics.
In 2007, Nancy decided to form Hearts & Hands as a 501(c)3
non-proft organization and use her skills to help all animals in
need. Hearts & Hands Animal Rescue takes in much more than
zebras – they have rescued horses, miniature horses, camelids,
birds, zorses, a zonkey, goats and other species that have either
been abandoned, abused, injured or neglected. Sidelines caught
up with Jeanette Smith of Hearts & Hands in order to fnd out more
about this unique rescue and their inspiring equine charges.
How did Hearts and Hands become a home for zebras?
Before the idea of an animal rescue was even conceived,
the ranch had zebras. Originally we were known as the Spots
‘n Stripes Ranch. At Spots ‘n Stripes, we trained and showed
zebras and behaviorally troubled horses and were known as the
top zebra training facility in the world. [At Hearts and Hands,] we
continue to keep all 3 species of zebras: the Grant’s Zebra, the
Grevy’s Zebra and the Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra. The ranch is
USDA licensed and is inspected regularly by Fish and Wildlife as
well as the USDA.
What is the difference between training a horse and a zebra?
Many horse trainers have tried to train zebras using horse
training methods. Horses are very forgiving of our mistakes
and what ‘works’ on a horse may not be accepted by a zebra
because they cannot be ‘force trained.’ Nancy has learned that it
does not take much for a zebra to ‘believe’ it is being forced to do
something. Horses give in; but a zebra won’t - a zebra will attack
if it feels it is being wronged and will even attack from a distance.
It is very important to have prior expert training in order to handle
or even go near a zebra.
Are your zebras domesticated and can they be ridden?
We don’t use the word domesticated because they are always
A new baby Hartmann’s Mountain
Zebra with his mom and dad.
Photo by Nancy Nunke
Even Zebras can jump with Friendship Training™.
Photo by Meaghan Berg
Hearts & Hands Rescue –
Earning Their Stripes
Continued on page 122