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L.A. may bring in outside experts to assess horses’ well-being at pony ride facility

Ponies stand behind a chain link fence
The city of Los Angeles is considering hiring an equestrian expert to assess the well-being of the horses used at the Griffith Park Pony Rides.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

An animal rights group has accused the city of Los Angeles of ignoring animal welfare laws at the Griffith Park Pony Rides, claiming that horses at the facility are overworked and calling for a citywide ban on commercial pony rides.

“The pony rides concession is animal cruelty disguised as child entertainment,” the Los Angeles Alliance for Animals said in a statement last week. “Unkind treatment of animals doesn’t align with Los Angeles values. Los Angeles has passed the fur ban, bull hook ban, and no wild animals in private parties.”

In response, two City Council members want the Department of Recreation and Parks to hire an outside equestrian expert to assess the well-being of horses used in the popular attraction.

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Griffith Park Pony Rides, which has operated in some form at the park since 1948, features pony rides and a petting zoo. Stephen Weeks, who has owned the business for the past five years, said protests at his facility have resulted in a lot of unhappy customers, with children riding around a corral to screaming protesters.

“We’ve had to refund birthday parties,” Weeks said. “Guests end up in tears because these people won’t stop yelling in their face.”

Customers have been called unfit parents because they allow their children to ride the ponies, Weeks said.

“It’s a frustrating to have to go through this,” Weeks said.

The founder of the Alliance, Zohra Fahim, said she has recorded video footage that shows handlers neglecting and abusing horses at the facility. Fahim claims the general public does not spend enough time at the corral to see the treatment the horses receive, which is why her group protests outside the business.

The protesters who visit the corrals do not harass customers, she said.

In a Facebook post, the group said its outreach efforts are “peaceful, love based methods” that educate the public about animal rights and child safety.

California lawmakers moved to ban circuses with wild animals under a bill approved by the state Legislature on Wednesday.

“We do not allow for aggression towards parents, children, or any members of the public,” the group said. “We believe that kindness is the best method of approach to educating the public.”

In a motion filed Wednesday, Councilmembers Nithya Raman and Paul Koretz said that “it is imperative that the city take these concerns seriously and consider this an opportunity to reassess what this operation will look like if the city decides to continue its operation.”

The full council would likely take it up early next year.

Raman and Koretz asked to have the Department of Recreation and Parks report back on the third-party’s findings on any necessary changes to the pony rides to ensure the horses’ well-being and research how other cities deal with the use of horses for entertainment.

The report could also address whether the inspection process needs to be updated to better assess the horses’ health, according to the motion.

“I’m grateful that they’re taking this motion and taking a step in the right direction to do their due diligence and investigate this,” Fahim said when reached by phone.

A mural depicting children riding ponies covers a fence behind which two people pass along a walkway
A mural at the Griffith Park Pony Rides attraction, which has operated in some form since 1948.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Weeks says he respects the city’s decision to use a third-party expert to assess his business if it will put to rest the protests outside the corral. The business is regularly inspected by city and county health agencies, along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Two veterinarians check on the horses regularly, Weeks said, adding that he updated the facility several years ago to provide more amenities for the animals, including rotating the horses who give rides to guests. Weeks said all the horses have been cleared to work by his veterinarians.

“I have nothing to hide about our operations,” Weeks said. “These people who are protesting the ponies really know nothing about equine science or horses. They have no clue about our operation and it comes down to a fundamental difference or that they are philosophically opposed to people riding horses.”


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