“Herd of Zebras began as my personal blog where I could express my pain, my sadness, my ‘differentness’ because all around me were friends who were starting their families and I felt so ‘other’ – like a zebra in a herd of horses.”
Everyone has heard the adage, “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” Forest Franzoi gave that wisdom a whole new twist — of lime. And raspberry. And grape. And every possible “flavor” you can imagine, combined to make a sweet cocktail of strength, passion, and community. Here’s her story…
The quintessential equestrian, Forest — now 32 — began riding at the ripe old age of five. She and her first pony, Sparky (whom she still owns), competed in large pony hunters and medal classes. Throughout college and grad school, Forest competed on various larger horses on the A circuit.
Like many other young riders, Forest grew up with the goals of riding, getting married, having children, and living the American dream. But fate had other plans.
She did get married. She also battled endometriosis for years. She went through fertility treatments. She suffered two miscarriages. She had seven surgeries in three years. Her illness and the devastating inability to have children ended up being too much strain on her marriage. Two years ago, to save her own health, divorced and alone at the tender age of 30, Forest had a hysterectomy.
“I felt like I was being punished for something completely out of my control,” Forest described. “I looked everywhere on social media to find others like me — young women who were also childless and battling endometriosis. I found no one like me; the other women already had children. I felt isolated and alone.”
Like so many of us horsefolk, Forest turned to horses for comfort and healing. Sparky became her inspiration.
“Herd of Zebras began as my personal blog. I needed an outlet where I could express my pain, my sadness, my ‘differentness’ because all around me were friends who were starting their families and I felt so ‘other’ – like a zebra in a herd of horses.”
Her blog readership grew rapidly and dramatically.
“Social media is typically a way for people to brag about how amazing their life is. I was writing very candidly and saying, ‘this is my reality and it sucks but I have to get through it.’ And that resonated with people.”
Soon, others began to share their own stories of pain, loss, “differentness” — including such “zebra stripes” as physical disabilities, mental disabilities, hardships with family relationships, and all the various iterations of life that challenge individuals to find their own inner strength.
“My Master’s degree is in digital marketing. I worked for years as a brand manager for a major corporation. But my heart felt so unified with these other ‘different’ people – we found a commonality in our individual challenges. So as the community of ‘zebras’ grew, I decided to take the leap and follow my heart.”
Joined by her professional artist sister-in-law, Elizabeth “Liz” Franzoi, Forest launched “Herd of Zebras” (HofZ) to provide a supportive, inclusive, community for anyone who is fighting or has fought a battle.
“Our mission is to be inclusive, supportive and encourage everyone to be nice – after all, most everyone is fighting some sort of battle.”
Forest and Liz want “Herd of Zebras” to be a brand “that makes a difference.” The brand has three main goals:
- HofZ is a community; when you see someone wearing a HofZ emblem on a garment, for example, you know you’ll be treated fairly, and that the “zebra” you’re meeting is sassy, edgy, awesome, supportive, inclusive, and welcoming. “We support, but don’t pander; we challenge you to be your best, while understanding sometimes there are dark valleys to walk through — and your fellow ‘zebras’ will walk beside you every step of the way.”
- HofZ wants to partner with other organizations and social influencers to help create a more inclusive, supportive environment, especially for equestrians, but ultimately for everyone.
- HofZ wants to give back and support the “zebras” of the equestrian world, such as para-dressage riders or riders with other challenges.
“We plan to highlight various charities throughout the year with our HofZ gear and various social media campaigns. We truly want to make the world a better place.”
In a world where “getting ahead” and “winning above all” tends to be the dominant mindset, it is refreshing to know that Herd of Zebras is taking a fresh, supportive approach to inclusivity.
You can join the Herd of Zebras, learn more about the movement, and grab Herd of Zebra merch at the website.