LOS ANGELES – An animal rights group has accused Los Angeles of ignoring animal welfare laws in Griffith Park Pony Rides, claiming the facility’s horses are overworked, and calling for a citywide ban on commercial pony rides.
“The privilege of riding a pony is animal cruelty disguised as children’s entertainment,” the Los Angeles Animal Alliance said in a statement last week. “Unkind treatment of animals is not in line with Los Angeles values. Los Angeles has passed a fur ban, a bull hook ban, and no wild animals at private parties.”
In response, two city council members want the Department of Recreation and Parks to hire an outside equestrian expert to assess the welfare of the horses used at the popular attraction.
Griffith Park Pony Rides, which has been operating in some form in the park since 1948, features pony rides and a petting zoo. Stephen Weeks, who has owned the company for the past five years, said protests at his facility have resulted in plenty of unhappy customers, with children riding around a corral to screaming protesters.
“We had to return the birthday party money,” Weeks said. “The guests end up crying because these people won’t stop screaming in their faces.”
He said the agents were labeled inappropriate parents because they let their children ride ponies.
“It’s frustrating to go through this,” Weeks said.
The alliance’s founder, Zahra Fahim, said it had recorded a video showing dealers ignoring and mistreating horses at the facility. Fahim claims that the general public does not spend enough time in the barn to see the treatment the horses receive, which is why her group is protesting outside the business.
She said that the protesters who visit the pens do not harass customers.
In a Facebook post, the group said its outreach efforts are “peaceful, love-based methods” of educating the public about animal rights and child safety.
“We do not allow abuse of parents, children or any member of the public,” the group said. “We believe kindness is the best way to educate the public.”
In a recently submitted proposal, council members Nithya Raman and Paul Kuritz said “it is imperative that the city takes these concerns seriously and considers this an opportunity to reassess what this process will look like if the city decides to continue its work.”
The full council is likely to take over early next year.
Raman and Kurtz asked the Department of Recreation and Parks to report on the third party’s findings on any necessary changes to pony riding to ensure horse welfare and to research how other cities handle the use of horses for recreation.
The report could also address whether the inspection needs to be updated to better assess the health of the horses, according to the movement.
Contacted by phone, Fahim said, “I am grateful that they took this step and took a step in the right direction to do their due diligence and investigate this matter.”
Weeks said he respects the city’s decision to use a third-party expert to evaluate his work if it will stop protests outside the pen. The work is regularly checked by city and county health agencies, along with the USDA.
Weeks said two vets regularly check on the horses, adding that he upgraded the facility several years ago to provide more amenities for the animals, including rotating horses offering tours to guests. Weeks said the vets had allowed all of the horses to work.
“I have nothing to hide about our operations,” he said. “Those people protesting against the pony really don’t know anything about equine science or horse science. They have no idea our process is due to a fundamental difference or they are philosophically opposed to people who ride horses.”