Clashes escalate between activists and Griffith Park Pony Ride patrons

A group of animal rights activists are once again concerned about horses being kept for pony rides in Griffith Park, complaining the animals are being forced to work even as temperatures soar into the 90s.

Los Angeles Alliance for Animals is planning a protest at the park on Sunday to demand that the city of Los Angeles cancel the dealership’s contract and pass an ordinance banning pony rides.

LAAA and other animal rights activists have railed against the pony ride operation for months, staging regular protests at the park. Activists noted horseback rides continued on Saturday, when the high hit 93 degrees at Griffith Park.

“In a city that prides itself on the highest standards of animal welfare, we must immediately end animal abuse when we witness it. That’s why we’ve been protesting for months to bring light to the suffering of the animals in this park,” a LAAA statement read.

“The concession of pony rides is cruelty to animals disguised as children’s entertainment. Mean treatment of animals does not align with Los Angeles values,” the group states, noting that in recent years, Los Angeles has adopted a ban on fur, a ban on fish hooks and a ban on the use of wild animals at private parties.

Griffith Park Pony Rides owner Steve Weeks blamed protesters for causing trouble at the attraction, telling the City News Service that some activists use amplification devices and sirens that “frighten children and ponies”.

Representatives of the GPPR and animal rights groups say there have been several fights at pony rides in recent months between protesters and patrons, including on Saturday.

“The protesters’ goal is that their efforts are aimed at making a beloved Los Angeles attraction for families an uncomfortable environment and that must stop immediately,” a GPPR representative said.

A member of the protest group said parents threw sodas at them on Saturday and added that a protester was stomped on, punched and had his camera broken.

The Los Angeles Police Department’s Northeast Station confirmed officers were dispatched to the park around 11 a.m. Saturday, but no arrests were reported.

LAAA’s Zohra Fahim said her group was planning Sunday’s protest but was not behind Saturday’s event.

“We organize peaceful and respectful awareness events. We don’t use amplified sound either,” Fahim said. “We are respectful and kind to family members.”

Maria Rios of For the Animals, who was at the protest on Saturday, called the complaints about the sound amplification “an attempt by the company to censor activists and prevent us from voicing our concerns about this establishment. . The company itself uses amplified sound and plays loud music. When we use the megaphones or any sound amplifier we do so to make our voices heard while the loud company music is playing, we make sure that we are not yelling at the customers. »

Rios says the violence that took place during the protests was instigated by patrons.

“We’re just asking for pony rides to be banned and for this business to adopt a non-animal model,” she said. “They already have a train that children and parents often take, animals are not required to provide rides and be used and exploited for entertainment.”

Weeks told CNS the pony rides recently passed a “vigorous inspection” ordered by Los Angeles officials months ago.

“The company has been asked to update some records and schedule more regular maintenance by its farrier. All issues that were addressed in this report were immediately complied with,” Weeks said.

Regarding the issue of hot temperatures in the park, “We have a protocol that we close pony rides if temperatures reach 95 degrees,” Weeks said. “Last night on the news we heard that the hottest part of the day would be in the afternoon. As such we close at 1pm. Of course that has always been our policy. »

Late last year, Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz and Councilwoman Nithya Raman introduced a motion for the Department of Recreation and Parks to report on the findings of a third-party assessment. of the facility, after complaints from LAAA (Griffith Park is in the Raman District).

The Department of Recreation and Parks has been instructed to have the facility assessed by a third-party equestrian expert and report to council on its policies and practices to ensure the horses are well cared for.

According to the report, Dr Rachael Sachar inspected the 38 ponies, seven goats, two rabbits and one sheep at the facility on January 3 and found that “working conditions were satisfactory and witnessed no violations related to care or treatment”. exposed animals.

However, Sachar also discovered what she called “several violations of the law that need to be rectified, medical issues that need to be addressed, and new policies and practices that need to be established for the safety and welfare of the animals.” “.

These included “no identification method used to identify each individual animal and there are no individual animal charts/files/or records”.

Dental exams revealed that most of the ponies were geriatric (20-30 years old), with one in his late thirties. Almost all of the horses needed dental work and many had saddle sores and/or calluses on the withers. “Operating charts indicated that these ponies were still in full labor and veterinary expense records indicated that they were not currently receiving veterinary treatment for these lesions,” the report said.

The report also criticized the GPPR’s enclosures and outdoor shelters, calling them “not optimal for protecting ponies in extreme wind or rain. They have no windbreaks, have poor drainage and were still muddy from recent rains. The pens were otherwise clean and contained very little manure or urine.

The report says the facility’s policies on acceptable working temperatures and managing access to water and shade for ponies can be improved and expanded.

Fahim said the city’s parks department “does a great job of ensuring Stephen Weeks makes the appropriate changes.”

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