GRIFFITH PARK PONY RIDES THREATENED- ANIMAL EXTREMISTS WANT TO "JUST SAY WHOA"
Horses are a way of life for many people, and our children are often introduced to horses at a young age. However, for those who are born in a city, the opportunity to see a horse in person or even touch or ride one is very limited. For many people, their first interaction with a horse is during a pony ride. Often this is when most say they fell in love with horses.
In Los Angeles, that opportunity for a child raised in an urban environment to enjoy an inexpensive ride on a pony may soon end if an animal extremist group has its way. On December 13, 2021, the Los Angeles Times reported that the animal extremist group Los Angeles Alliance for Animals (LAAA) had accused the city of ignoring animal welfare laws at the Griffith Park Pony Rides and Petting Zoo.
Pony Rides in Griffith Park – A Los Angeles Tradition Since 1948
Griffith Park, with over 4,210 acres, is one of the largest municipal parks with urban wilderness areas in the U.S.
Located within Griffith Park is the Los Angeles Zoo, the Autry Museum of the American West, the Griffith Observatory and of course, the Hollywood Sign. It is one of the most famous municipal parks in the country. On the southeast corner of Griffith Park, stands Griffith Park Pony Rides and Petting Zoo.
This hidden gem has been enriching the lives of children since 1948, teaching children from all walks of life about horses, ponies and animals in general. It serves to provide urban children with the unforgettable experience of riding a pony, learning about horses, interacting and learning about different farm animals like goats, rabbits and even a miniature horse.
Protect The Harvest Visit
Protect The Harvest is made up of team members, board members and advisors who have spent a lifetime with horses. Some are breeders, competitors, and equine enthusiasts. We have a veterinarian on our advisory committee as well as team members who are registered veterinary technicians, and who have spent most of their career working in veterinary medicine. Since we had a Protect The Harvest member in the Los Angeles area, we decided to take a visit to see the facility and ponies for ourselves. The team member who made the visit is a registered veterinary technician with extensive experience in equine medicine as well as horse ownership and competition, carriage rides and petting zoo. This is a report of their experience.
Several of the staff members grew up in the area and remember going to the park to ride the ponies. One staff member made the claim that he loved riding the ponies until he outgrew them, and then when he saw an opening to work there, he decided to give back.
The staff take great pride in keeping their facility clean, always cleaning up after the ponies, goats, sheep and most have been there for at least 2-3 years. When asked what keeps them working there, every staff member said, “the ponies.”
Animal Welfare and Safety
The facility is regularly inspected and licensed by the Los Angeles Animal Regulation Department, Los Angeles County Health Department, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. An article by City News Service, dated December 8, 2021, stated according to city council members, the Parks Department and Department of Animal Services have gone multiple times to the facility for inspections and have not found any violations.
Current owner, Stephen Weeks, is concerned for his ponies, their health and welfare and their safety, as well as the safety of the children who ride the ponies. Everything possible is done to prevent spooking the ponies including: no hats or slip-on shoes that might fall off the children and bump the ponies’ legs, no balloons allowed near the ponies, no leaning on the fence trying to urge the ponies on (by parents, not children), and taking care to “slow down” if the staff feel that the environment is “too busy” for the ponies.
The ponies are trained to walk around the track they’re placed in (small, medium or big ponies) and they meander at their own pace. There are no stirrups on the saddle, no bridle or bit on the pony. No one is forcing the ponies to move.
Children are weighed to make sure they’re not too big for a pony they want to ride. The big ponies, or some of the medium ponies, will trot with the child on board. The workers run alongside the ponies, kissing, clucking, and encouraging the ponies to trot one time around the track, never touching the ponies. The second lap is at the walk to give the ponies a breather. If it gets busy, they will make an announcement that a specific group of ponies will be on break for the next 15-30 minutes to give them a rest. Most of the patrons understand, but others find it annoying to have to wait. Weeks and his managers are adamant that the ponies’ welfare comes first.
There are misters to spray the ponies if they seem warm, and there is water accessible for the ponies in between rides. Rides are staggered whenever possible to give the ponies rest.
Work Schedule is Vet Approved
The schedule the ponies work, in general, is two weekdays and both weekend days; they are closed on Mondays so all ponies get a break. According to an article from newsofamerica.org, Mr. Weeks said two veterinarians check the horses regularly; that he updated the facility several years ago to give the animals more amenities, including rotating the horses who give guests rides. Weeks said all the horses have been cleared for work by his vets.
“I have nothing to hide about our operations,” Weeks said. “These people protesting against the ponies really know nothing about equine science or horses. They have no idea about our operation and it comes down to a fundamental difference or that they are philosophically against people riding horses.”
The ponies receive regular vet check-ups, feet trimming and are assessed daily by staff. None of the ponies are in poor condition, all were sporting winter coats.
Accommodations for the ponies are made as they slow down with age. One pony, Dutchess, is the “matriarch” of the pony herd. She works a birthday party here and there, just because she loves the kids.
Improvements in Amenities
When Weeks purchased Pony Rides in 2017, he made a commitment to make improvements for the ponies who were there. Some of the ponies from the previous ownership are still at the facility.
Some of the improvements were building pens rather than just stalls, so the ponies could live in a herd environment. There are covered canopies so they can get out of the sun, and if heavy rain is in the forecast, the ponies are brought into the barn to keep them warm and dry.
Herd Management and Feed
Pens are designed with the ponies in mind. Large ponies are kept away from small ponies, ponies on special diets are in a specific pen. Each morning, the ponies scheduled to work are brought into the barn, given some senior feed with their supplements in it, groomed and then saddled with lightweight pony saddles. The trot ponies are encouraged to trot around the track before the kids get there.
Ponies are fed soaked hay cubes and pellets and are given psyllium as prophylaxis since sand colic is prevalent in the southern California area.
City Council Requests Third Party Review
Due to the multiple unfounded complaints made by animal extremists, the Department of Recreation and Parks decided to have a third-party equestrian expert assess the facility and report to the council on its policies and practices to ensure the horses are being well cared for.
Stephen Weeks, president of Griffith Park Pony Rides, who has owned the operation for the past five years, stated in a letter sent to councilmember Nithya Raman that:
Mr. Weeks states he respects the city’s decision to use a third-party expert to assess his business. Whether or not that will stop the protests is another story since the harassment, protests and complaints are being made by extremists who follow the ideology that all use of animals is akin to slavery and abuse.
Los Angeles Alliance for Animals is an Animal Extremist Group
When considering complaints of abuse and “slavery,” it is important to know about the agenda and ideology of the accusers. Los Angeles Alliance for Animals (LAA) is simply another grassroots animal extremist group. According to their Facebook page, “The Los Angeles Alliance for Animals (LAAA) is an all-volunteer, grassroots group formed to end exploitative pony and horse rides in the LA area. When possible, we will also work on other animal abuses.” They are not to be confused with Los Angeles Animal Alliance, which is an ASPCA sponsored nonprofit, but that’s another story.
LAAA Has Strong Ties with Other Extremist Groups
Looking at persons tagged in LAAA videos, several names pop up on various friends lists. Many of those names are members of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Horseracing Wrongs, Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and other animal extremist groups.
Anthropomorphism and Disinformation - Nothing New
As with most animal extremist groups, LAAA deliberately tries to manipulate human emotions by anthropomorphizing the feelings and behaviors of animals. The animal extremists make false claims that the ponies are overworked, that “the pony riding concession is animal cruelty disguised as child entertainment.”
A video posted on their Facebook page describes the plight of the ponies from the viewpoint of the videographer. Comments made by the videographer include:
“Any animal use is animal abuse”
"they are forced to go around in these psychotic circles”
“animals that are chained up here, enslaved, they have no choice but to keep running around the same circles until dusk to dawn.”
“These animals don’t enjoy the enslavement, just like humans”
“These ponies, these animals are suffering because they have no choice”
“Animals are here with us and not for us. They don’t work for us, they’re not here to be exploited by humans.”
“You can go and see the animals are in misery”
The narrator further compared the ponies to people in quarantine, and stated that “animals just want to be free like my furbaby here” (referring to her dog, being confined in her arms).
Upon perusal of LAAA’s Facebook page, there were some glaring mistruths, exaggerations and animal extremist rhetoric and propaganda. Among the false claims of abuse by current pony ride owner, Stephen Weeks, were articles dating back to 1986.
The post from Los Angeles Alliance for Animals founder, Zohra Fahim prefaces the reprinting of the 1986 article with this:
The quoted statement above was from then Pony Ride owner and operator, Hank Bronk. Its entire message was not displayed by LAAA’s founder. The statement in its entirety was:
Pointing to a sign that said, “Please Do Not Hit or Kick Ponies,” Bronk explained: “That’s up there for parents, not the kids.”
“This is one of the few places that working people can go for inexpensive entertainment, one dollar for two laps,” Bronk said. “And the rides are very safe. The kids are strapped into their seats. The only problem we ever have is with adults. Sometimes a parent will kick a pony that’s trained to walk to make it go faster. I’ve even seen parents hit a pony with a camera.”
This article appeared in the Los Angeles Times, by Steve Harvey, dated February 11, 1986 and was titled “Ponies in Peril: Insurance Woes Threaten Griffith Park Ride” and dealt with liability insurance, not abuse to animals, yet LAAA states that pony abuse goes back to 1986.
Protestors Screaming at Children
LAAA founder Zohra Fahim states on their Facebook page that they are about peace and love and has to remind the protestors that:
”Los Angeles Alliance for Animals has been conducting weekly outreach events at Griffith Park and Pony Ride that consists of peaceful, love based methods by educating the public on the plight of the animals, and our deep child safety concern. We do not allow for aggression towards parents, children, or any members of the public. We believe that kindness is the best method of approach to educating the public.”
However, the protests seen are anything but love-based education. Protestors screamed at children in a birthday party, refused to stand in a Griffith Park designated “First Amendment Zone,” stood in the main walkway between the “party corral” and the pony ride track and continued to yell false information trying to disrupt a licensed business running a well-run, strictly regulated concession.
LAAA Does Not Care About Animal Welfare
It is obvious that LAAA doesn’t care about the welfare of the ponies, nor are they animal experts. One protestor even admitted it while attempting to disrupt the rides and a child’s birthday party. After an announcement was made by the pony rides explaining that if a family was looking for the “medium” ponies, there would be a break of about 30 minutes to allow the ponies to rest, because the ponies’ health and welfare was foremost. While some patrons complained, others took it in stride.
The extremists screamed that the ponies were walking with their head and neck stretched down and low and “wouldn’t even pick up their heads.” Another activist screamed at the pony rider (a child) in a birthday party that they were animal abusers because they were paying to ride the pony. Still another extremist was heard screaming:
For those who are unaware, lowered head and neck while walking is a relaxed stance, not a defeated one. Horses also greet each other that way, as herd animals will have an established pecking order.
Banning Pony Rides is Just Another Step in the Animal Extremist Plan to End All Animal Use
The Pony Rides at Griffith Park in Los Angeles are not the first to be targeted by animal extremist groups, nor will they be the last. For years our organization has been warning the public about the ideology and agenda of animal extremist groups and their tactics. They start with isolated animal enterprise and then move on. We saw this happen with the circus and warned horse owners about the implications. These groups have continually targeted carriage horse owners most notably in New York City, but also in cities across the country. Unfortunately, in some cities, these groups have had success in banning the use of carriage horses. Now groups in Los Angeles have targeted rodeo and animal exhibitions. They were successful in duping the Los Angeles City Council into requesting an overreaching ordinance with language that will not only ban rodeo events from the city, but all animal training and exhibitions. With each “victory” the animal extremists get, another industry is forced to close down.
Every time an industry like this closes down, it means someone loses their livelihood, children lose out on the education that industry provides for them, and the animals lose out too.
The ponies at the Griffith Park Pony Rides are well cared for, loved and provide an incredible experience to underserved, low-income families. Mr. Weeks charges $5.00 per pony ride, twice around the track, and anyone who has ever rented a horse knows that that is inexpensive. Horse care is expensive. Vet care is expensive. Griffith Park Pony Rides’ motto is “If in doubt, call the vet.”
It would be a travesty if Los Angeles children were to lose this “gem.” It will also be a tragedy for horse and animal owners in general.