Since 1948, generations of families have visited Griffith Park Pony Rides, but now activists would like to see the attraction hang up its saddles.
Every weekend for the last nine months, animal rights activists have showed up at the rides to protest the treatment of the ponies. They claim the ponies are neglected and forced to work in 90-plus degree weather without access to clean water.
Stephen Weeks, owner of Griffith Park Pony Rides, says there’s no mistreatment.
“They have excellent vet care. They have their water. … We have them stand in misters, we control the amount of hours they work, we give them rest during the day,” he says. “We're really on top of our ponies because we love them and they're so important to us.”
Last December, Councilmembers Nithya Raman and Paul Koretz brought in a veterinarian to assess the pony facilities.
The investigation did not find violations related to the care or treatment of the animals, but it did reveal legal and medical issues. Several ponies needed dental work and some needed to be evaluated for saddle sores and farrier care.
Weeks says he resolved most of those issues in February. Even so, protests continue.
Zohra Fahim, founder of the Los Angeles Alliance for Animals — one of two groups that have been protesting here – says she believes the pony rides aren’t in line with LA’s progressive policies.
“We have the fur ban, we have the bullhook ban, we have the ban on wild animals for entertainment,” she explains. “This is completely out of step with … Los Angeles.”
The protests at Griffith Park Pony Rides can sometimes get tense. On a recent Saturday, the group For the Animals gathered around a pony corral and started chanting loudly while a family celebrated a child’s birthday.
Partygoers got angry. Some started yelling back at the protesters, telling them to leave. One couple got in the protesters’ faces and tried to push them away from the corral. One man snatched a sign out of a protester’s hands while another woman ripped it up. Almost a dozen LAPD officers and LA park rangers came down to take a report of the incident.
Weeks says scenes like this have cost him thousands of dollars per month in lost business and refunds to parents who had bad experiences with protesters.
Fahim says Los Angeles Alliance for Animals mainly has positive experiences with parents. “We have family members thanking us … for being there, and empowering them, and enlightening them with the abuse that happens at this park.”
Ultimately, activists want the ponies to be sent to sanctuaries, and they want the attraction to be replaced with a non-animal model, like the train ride nearby, so workers can keep their jobs.
Weeks says Griffith Park Pony Rides has staying power and LA Recreation and Parks agrees. They extended his concession agreement for another year and will continue to monitor the condition of the ponies.
Activists say they’ll keep speaking out despite the renewal.
*Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that the Griffith Park Pony Rides concession agreement was renewed for five years. The agreement was actually renewed for one year with the possibility of two more one-year extensions.