Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

Petition Wars Over Santa Monica Pony Rides

In the words of animal rights figurehead Cesar Chavez, " we know we cannot be kind to animals until we stop exploiting them". However, disputes are rising as to where the line can be drawn between labour animals and downright cruelty.

Since 2006, Tawni Angel's Pony Rides at the Santa Monica Farmer's Market has brought weekly excitement for kids learning about animals. Yet recently animal rights activist Marcy Winograd has been pushing for an end to what she calls "animal cruelty" with her online petition. Those in favour of the pony rides have bitten back with their own petition.

According to some, the pony attraction in town is "just a primitive spectacle of animal exploitation", and many residents are shocked that the community is permitting the rides along with its petting zoo, despite the rising number of complaints.

Winograd's petition on the Move On website currently has over 600 signatures, including those of Santa Monica School Board President Ben Allen, City Council candidates Sue Himmelrich and Richard Mckinnon, and Residocracy organizer and Hines project challenger Armen Melkonians. There is clearly widespread discontent over how this attraction is run.

On the other hand, Angel is insistent that her animals are happy and that there is no sense of cruelty in her business. 70% of her horses are rescues, and are always permitted shade despite Winograd's claims. Throughout the week, when the ponies are not at the market, they are given 5 acre pastures and quarterly inspections.

According to Angel, Marcy is simply not speaking the truth. "My alpaca Elle for example, I rescued her mama when she was about to give birth, 5 weeks later she unfortunately got a blockage in her intestine, which left me with Elle. Here we are 2 years later, healthy and happy. She has a wonderful herd that loves her so much! Marcy's crazy talk about the alpaca needing it's family- We are her family and she is very relaxed and stress free".

Angel also adds the pictures Marcy took show the alpaca sleeping, not burying her head in discomfort, particularly as shade was available to her. She accepts that labour isn't for all animals: "I have had animals in the past that are shy or just don't adjust well and I happily find a different home for them. I devote my life to doing right by these animals."

Winograd's site is indeed verging on the extreme, with 'pony testimonials' claiming "each Sunday they make me plod in circles on hard concrete for almost four hours, music hammering my ears, car exhaust in my face. They think I have no feelings. I do." In addition, Winograd's small turnout of protesters at the Santa Monica Farmer's Market has been dominated by the number of signatures signed for Angel's petition, which is reaching over 800.

There must be some kind of middle-ground between these two extremes. As Winograd suggests, young people should be encouraged to take nature walks and observe animals in their natural habitat. But of course this is hard to do in a city like this- markets in other areas such as Portland now include cooking classes for children and arts & crafts, but for children to be up and close with animals is an unparalleled experience, and Tawni's Ponies are even in demand in preschool and Kindergarten classes.

Winograd's main concern is over the horses specifically excluded from protection under the federal Animal Welfare act- in which case, would it not be suitable to take matters further than this one instance in Santa Monica? If there are genuine concerns for welfare, principles must be changed, and that is not the responsibility of one business adamant on its own integrity.

Santa Monica city management and head market manager Laura Avery insists animals from this decade-long business are treated appropriately and the business runs well within the law. There is no current proposition for Angel's contract, which ends April 2015, not to be renewed.


Reader Comments(1)

DannieC writes:

there is no shade but partial cover for the qestion two are miserable...the baby animals bred for this exploitation cringe and run from the children with their frenetic energy, they are trapped ,I I bet if given the chance would run fast from this misery they are forced into..petting zoos are being stopped all over where anyone has a conscience..tTawni may rescue because it's free, but she exploits them many lies..smug behavior from the city, Low & Avery and Tawni. Denial/lies