Zebras and horses are both members of famiily Equidae, commonly referred to as the horse family. They look remarkably similar, minus the zebras' striping. Both species are both social animals who live in herds as means of protection from predators. Horses and zebras both communicate through special calls and sounds, some that are the same between the species and some that are unique.
Neigh vs. Bark
Zebras and horses both use special calls to locate other members of the herd. A zebra gives a high-pitched yip or bark. This unusual call sounds more like it belongs to a wild dog than a member of the equid family. Horses make a sound for the same purpose -- to find each other -- but it is quite different. The loud whinny or neigh, commonly misappropriated in movies and television to indicate a horse's excitement during battle or chase scenes, is the sound a horse uses to say, "Where are you?" This loud call carries over long distances to help keep a herd together.
The snort is common to the horse and the zebra. It is typically a short, sharp burst of air through the nostrils with the mouth closed. Horses tend to snort when they are excited or anticipating a pleasurable activity, such as being turned out to pasture after being in the stable. A zebra snort may signal excitement but is best interpreted through his body language, including the position of his ears, the height and angle of his head, and whether he is rolling his eyes.
A soft nicker -- a blow through the nose and lips to create a "whuffle" sound -- is a sounds zebras and horses make upon greeting. It is usually reserved for members of the herd they are familiar with and like. Mothers frequently nicker to their young as they approach. Horses will nicker at humans they are familiar with as well, especially at feeding time.
A horse doesn't bray, but a zebra does. The zebra's bray is similar to that of a donkey or mule but with a wider range of sound, starting very low like a large cat growling and ending very high like a squealing pig. This bray is used to call to potential mates and can be heard over long distances. It is an essential sound for the zebra since males and females, or stallions and females, do not always travel together and need to find each other when it comes time to mate.
- John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images