Stephen Weeks has for years run the Griffith Park Pony Rides, an attraction that has drawn generations of equestrian-loving locals. Now he’s placing most of his vitality towards discovering properties for over 30 ponies.
After greater than 70 years, the horse rides are closing, following protests by animal rights activists and a crucial evaluate by metropolis officers. The Los Angeles vacation spot for households on the lookout for a slice of ranch life within the metropolis and a lazy stroll round a modest corral will shut its doorways Dec. 21.
“My largest concern is for my staff and my ponies,” mentioned Weeks. “Whereas I’m clearly dissatisfied, my focus proper now’s to search out good properties, eternally properties for our ponies.”
The response from prospects to the information of the approaching shutdown was combined, with some expressing concern for the well-being of the animals and others mourning the tip of a Griffith Park custom that dates again a long time.
“I’d say my response concerning the closure is conflicted,” mentioned Joaquin Reyna, who introduced his 3-year-old daughter Paloma to the horse rides just lately. “It doesn’t appear like they’ve the very best life right here, however a part of me is rather like, it’s the tip of an period.”
About two weeks earlier than the official closure, Weeks had already began to search out properties for the ponies. A horse trailer pulled out of the parking zone with little fanfare Tuesday, carrying a pony that was being taken in by a sanctuary. A number of staff waved on the trailer as if they have been saying goodbye to a pal.
“Bye, Turbo,” mentioned 21-year-old Justin Valiente, who has labored on the pony rides for practically two years.
“That pony has been right here longer than me. He was retired, and I suppose you might say he skilled me,” Valiente mentioned. “I’m going to overlook this place.”
Over the past yr, animal rights activists have protested the horse rides, picketing the corral and even demonstrating exterior metropolis places of work. They claimed the animals have been uncared for and compelled to work throughout warmth waves and never given sufficient breaks.
In response, metropolis officers employed a third-party veterinarian to look at the animals and their dwelling situations. The skilled visited the positioning in December 2021 and once more in January and September.
Whereas the veterinarian’s findings throughout the first two inspections didn’t present any outright indicators of neglect or animal abuse, the skilled discovered some animals have been in want of assist for saddle sores, in addition to hoof and dental care. The skilled really helpful higher shelter and facilities, resembling simpler entry to decrease water troughs.
However throughout the latest website inspection, the skilled discovered that 10 ponies have been lacking from the final go to, in accordance with the report ready for the Division of Recreation and Parks.
4 ponies had died and 6 had been positioned in different amenities, however the metropolis didn’t obtain any data till months after the ponies’ deaths, in accordance with the report. Primarily based on medical data, not one of the animals died from neglect. The report really helpful Weeks enhance his veterinarian record-keeping and his communication with town.
“Over the course of 74 years, I’m sure that many ponies have handed away as a consequence of pure causes or horse-related illnesses, particularly colic,” Weeks mentioned. “It’s simply one thing that occurs.”
The horse rides opened in 1948 and in its newest iteration featured a big pasture, a petting zoo with livestock and a pony ring on 4 acres of land. In 1986, the operation was susceptible to being closed when its proprietor misplaced his legal responsibility insurance coverage.
With a background in mortgage finance, Weeks — a self-described equestrian fanatic — got here out of retirement in 2017 to take over the operation at Griffith Park.
Whereas Weeks mentioned he up to date insurance policies to handle the problems within the veterinarian stories, the protests didn’t cease.
“We’re actually critical about our animal care,” he mentioned. “We all know that the general public’s trying, we all know that officers are trying. So we all the time wish to do the very best factor. Plus, we’re animal individuals. We love these animals to start with.”
Over the past yr, most weekends on the pony rides have been accompanied by a refrain of protesters yelling at youngsters and their mother and father, Weeks mentioned. Metropolis officers established a court-ordered “free speech” zone to push protesters away from harassing prospects. Nonetheless, a number of individuals have been arrested and cited for trespassing, noise ordinance violations and violating the “keep away” orders across the pony rides, metropolis officers mentioned.
Weeks mentioned staff have obtained dying threats from protesters, however the Los Angeles Police Division mentioned there have been no stories filed over any of these incidents.
“I can’t converse for the harassment,” mentioned founding father of the Los Angeles Alliance for Animals Zohra Fahim, who spearheaded the marketing campaign to protest the horse rides greater than a yr in the past.
Fahim mentioned she was arrested whereas protesting exterior the horse rides, however she didn’t manage any of the protests exterior the individuals’s properties and can’t converse for the extra aggressive protesters.
Recreation and parks spokesperson Rose Watson mentioned the protests performed no function within the company’s resolution to not renew the concession contract.
In a written assertion to The Instances, the company mentioned it based mostly its resolution on the findings from the veterinary stories and a scarcity of transparency, communication and restricted veterinary documentation on the useless animals from the horse trip operators. The company “was not snug exercising a second contract extension with the operator,” the assertion mentioned.
No matter function Fahim’s group performed within the closure of the horse rides, if any, she mentioned she appears like her marketing campaign introduced consideration the place there was none earlier than. Fahim’s group threatened to sue if town renewed its concession contract with the horse trip operators below the present situations.
She mentioned she’s grateful town determined to cease “profiting off of animal exploitation.”
“They made such an essential resolution that everyone locally needs,” Fahim mentioned. “I imagine that recreation and parks has set the precedent for different municipalities to observe their management.”
Whereas the Los Angeles Metropolis Council doesn’t make the ultimate willpower over concession contracts, the animal rights activists discovered allies with not less than three council members.
In October, council members Nithya Raman, Paul Koretz and Bob Blumenfield really helpful the Division of Recreation and Parks not prolong its contract with the horse trip operators as a consequence of animal security considerations.
Raman mentioned it grew to become clear that town couldn’t in “good religion transfer ahead with the extension of this contract” following the a number of equestrian stories.
“Griffith Park is in want of inexpensive facilities that permit households join with nature, however we have to look into different fashions which might be secure and wholesome for each youngsters and animals,” Raman mentioned in a press release.
Koretz mentioned the scenario with the horse trip and petting zoo “was not good for the animals. The situations weren’t conducive to their long-term well being and well-being. Now I’d wish to see all of them retired to eternally residence.”
Weeks mentioned he obtained a letter within the mail with boilerplate language on town’s resolution earlier this month. As soon as he introduced the information on social media, he mentioned he obtained an outpouring of assist from individuals locally who grew up with the horse rides.
“They’re barraging us with emails and calls,” Weeks mentioned. “They might ask, ‘How did this occur? Why would this occur?’ It’s been a 74-year establishment and out of the blue it’s simply closed down. That’s the irritating half I believe for everybody concerned.”
On a current Tuesday morning, a gradual stream of households visited the horse rides.
Stella Cota, a longtime buyer, has introduced generations of her household right here. She was damage when she heard the information that the attraction could be closing down.
“We now have movies since our children have been little or no. All of them come right here,” Cota mentioned. “My youngsters, little nephews, nieces, everyone.”
She stood in step with her 32-year-old grandson Tyler Beckwith and her 1-year-old great-grandson, Jackson, for a pony trip.
“I cry,” Cota mentioned, stating she introduced Beckwith when he was across the similar age.
Beckwith admitted he didn’t have the identical connection as the remainder of his household over the generations and didn’t have all of the details about why the positioning was closing.
“I’ve been right here, all of our household has been right here,” Beckwith mentioned. “My grandmother wished to deliver her great-grandson right here and that’s adequate a cause for me.”