Who Cancelled Griffith Park Pony Rides After 74 Years?

It wasn’t animal abuse protestors, but shoddy bookkeeping and bad communication with the city that ended the horseplay

In a move that will make kids cry, Griffith Park’s historic, 74 year-old pony ride attraction is being shuttered as the city declined to renew its contract, Steve Weeks, who runs the rides, announced on Sunday.

“It is with much sadness that I announce that Griffith Park Pony Rides will be ceasing operations December 21, 2022, Weeks wrote on Facebook Sunday (via TMZ). “I have received a letter from Los Angeles Recreation and Parks stating that our contract will not be renewed. After 74 years serving the children and parents of Los Angeles, this iconic institution will be closed forever by order of the City.”

Since 1948, not only could kids ride ponies around a track, but they could also visit a petting zoo with goats, sheep, and rabbits.

The public and pony-riding response is mixed. “I would say my reaction about the closure is conflicted,” Joaquin Reyna, who brought his toddler to the rides, told the Los Angeles Times. “It doesn’t look like they have the best life here, but part of me is just like, it’s the end of an era.”

Weeks appeared to at least partially blame the shutdown on animal rights meddlers, writing, “You have all followed our fight against these few radical animal rights activists. Despite our year long fight to answer the untrue statements of these individuals, our efforts were not heard. This was the city [sic] decision and not the pony ride’s choice.”

In the last year, the activists have accused Griffith Park Pony Rides of abusing the horses by forcing them to work in the hottest parts of the day as well as depriving them breaks, among other things.

The city listened, hiring a third-party veterinarian to look over the 30 animals and their living environment. The vet visited Griffith Park Pony Rides in December 2021, in January 2022, and again in September, according to the Times.

The first two inspections did not find any signs of abuse or neglect, but the veterinarian did find saddle sores in need of treatment on some ponies, as well as dental and hoof issues. Other recommendations, like easier access to lower water troughs and “better shelter” were also made.

However, during the most recent inspection, the vet discovered that 10 ponies had gone missing since the last visit, according to the report made for the Department of Recreation and Parks. Four ponies had died and six had been placed in other facilities. But Weeks hadn’t informed the city of any of this until months after the ponies died, the report states. But, according to medical records, none of the ponies died from neglect and Weeks was admonished to step up his record-keeping and to maintain closer contact with the city.

“We are really serious about our animal care,” Weeks said. “We know that the public’s looking, we know that officials are looking. So we always want to do the best thing.

While the activists have been a visible—and, to some, unwelcome part of the pony rides for the last year, with protesters often shrieking at kids and parents—Recreation and Parks spokesperson Rose Watson claimed the protests had no impact on the decision not to renew Pony Rides’ concession contract. Instead, the call was based on the information in the veterinary reports, bad communication, a lack of transparency, and limited documentation on the ponies that died.

Due to these factors the agency “was not comfortable exercising a second contract extension with the operator,” the statement read.

In October, three city council members recommended the Department of Recreation and Parks decline to extend the contract over concerns about animal welfare.

And now, who wants a pony? Because, forever homes are now needed for the 30 evicted animals, the Times reports.

“My biggest concern is for my employees and my ponies,” said Weeks, who is slowly finding places for ponies, with one recently carted off to a sanctuary as the employees waved goodbye.

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