At the end of last year, the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks (RAP) closed the Griffith Park Pony Rides, in response to a campaign led by animal rights extremists who falsely claimed that the ponies were being abused. It wasn’t until it was too late to reverse the process that the story made its way to the public. Local reaction was swift, and angry and disappointed families and local equestrians organized several rallies to try to stop RAP from closing the rides. But the damage had already been done, and the rides closed. With this, the only local opportunity for children to experience horses for an affordable price disappeared.
Now, after nearly a year of activism by locals who want the rides reinstated, RAP has hired a consultant, Placeworks, to oversee the future of the historic site where the pony rides used to operate.
Placeworks is actively soliciting feedback from the public right now, about whether or not live ponies should return to the pony rides site. You can email your comments to Placeworks at firstname.lastname@example.org, and read more about their public outreach at the bold link below.
Below is a bulleted list which is a timeline of the events that took place in 2021 and 2022, that led to the closure of the pony rides. You can follow the campaign to save the pony rides by going to savegriffithparkponyrides.com and signing up for their mailing list.
· Griffith Park Pony Rides has operated for 74 years. Their lease on the land they occupy is up for renewal this month (December 2022).
· Six years ago, Steve Weeks assumed ownership of the business.
· In late 2021, a small and loud group of animal activists, namely Zohra Fahim and her associates, began showing up to protest at the pony rides. Zohra Fahim is the head of Los Angeles Alliance for Animals (not to be confused with the Los Angeles Animal Alliance, which is a legitimate animal rescue organization). These protests have involved many documented separate incidents of the activists behaving badly, and in some cases, unlawfully, as outlined in detail on this page. Scroll down for a separate list of these incidents, including links to documented proof of their behavior.
· The Pony Rides were cited by the L.A. Parks and Rec after numerous complaints from people who do not live in Los Angeles. The Pony Rides were in compliance, and as of May 25, 2022, were approved for the cure and had their permit granted to March of 2023. Proof of this can be found on the Press Release on our Press Page.
· Under pressure from activists, none of whom have identified themselves as horse people, the city appointed an independent veterinarian to check on the welfare of the ponies. This vet, Dr. Rachael Sachar, examined the ponies, petting zoo, and facilities several times over the course of a year. She determined that the ponies were in good health overall, and made recommendations for some minor issues and improvements to the facilities, all of which Steve Weeks addressed.
· Steve Weeks was NOT required to disclose any deaths of ponies, working or retired, to the City of LA. Nowhere in the documentation required by the city does it say this. This fact was also reported in the media, including in the following article from Dec 7th. From the article: “Allegations by animal rights activists that the ponies were being abused are not supported by official documents and other records as the cause of the city’s action.”
· In a letter to Steve Weeks, Jimmy Kim, the Interim General Manager of the Parks and Recreation wrote, ”The operator is not required to notify the city of deceased animals.”
· Four ponies passed away over the last year, two from colic, one from old age, and one from a freak accident after being kicked in the corral by another pony. All four ponies were retired and not in the rotation of working ponies at the pony rides concession. Steve Weeks maintained a retirement facility at the pony rides for his ponies who were ready to retire.
· Recreation and Parks General Manager Jimmy Kim assumed his post in June 2022. It is not entirely clear when, but activists showed up outside his house, and the homes of other people associated with the Parks and Recreation management. Media cites “LA City Employees,” but doesn’t go into much detail other than that. They also showed up multiple times to cause chaos at the home of Steve Weeks, and at the home of Steve’s daughter, who is not involved with the pony rides.
· Despite 100% compliance with the city, the decision to close the pony rides was made, apparently unilaterally, by Jimmy Kim, who was the interim General Manager. There were no public hearings on the matter, in fact, all public hearings were cancelled. At the original time of this post, which was in early November, the last public hearing was rescheduled to occur in January, AFTER the pony rides’ lease would had expired. After public outcry, the hearing was reinstated to mid-December. Proof of this can be found in the Press Release on our Press page.
· During this process, many supporters of the pony rides suspected that something else having nothing to do with the pony rides was going on. Questions arose all over social media, wondering if the closure was to be a thinly veiled attempt to grab the concession after the upgrades to the property and the hard work of so many at the pony rides. This theory seems to be supported by the fact that there was a Motion to Cancel on October 25th brought by 3 politicians, 2 of which who are no longer in office. This Motion does not show a vote by the City Council (as in every single other instance). Proof of this can be found in the Press Release on our Press page.
· Again, there were no public hearings. On November 23rd, a letter was sent to Steve Weeks, terminating the contract. This was a surprise, as Weeks had complied, at great financial expense to himself, for all of the physical upgrades to the facility. The May 25th letter confirms this. Proof of this can be found in the Press Release on our Press page.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CAMPAIGN AGAINST THE PONY RIDES
In late 2021, a small and loud group of animal activists, namely Head of Los Angeles Alliance For Animals Zohra Fahim and her associates, began showing up to protest at the pony rides.
This included paying other activists from out of town $25 per hour to come stand at the pony rides and protest. Several newer activists inadvertently disclosed this information directly to staff who were working at the pony rides.
Zohra Fahim claims that she organized peaceful protests. But on Dec 18th, activists were witnessed by pony rides supporters physically assaulting at least one child, and recorded on video breaking the protest sign of one pony rides supporter, as she stood by, calmly filming.
Other recorded footage from that day shows activists surrounding, filming, laughing at, swearing at, and mocking a furious mother, who confonted them after her young daughter got so upset that she yelled at the activists to leave them all alone. There are two recordings of this. We blurred the mother, daughter, and another family member in the footage, to protect their privacy.
That same day, the second-to-last of the pony rides, children and parents turned out in record numbers. As they waited in line for hours, activists shouted and chanted at them repeatedly, including
“Pony riders have blood on their hands”
“Ponies have died here, ponies have collapsed here, because you abuse them”
Again, Zohra Fahim claims that she organized peaceful protests. However, many separate incidents (over the past year) have been documented of her and her followers:
· Harrassing children and their parents waiting in line for the pony rides so badly that City officials established a court-ordered “free speech” zone to push protesters away from harassing customers. Still, several activists have been arrested and cited for trespassing, noise ordinance violations and violating the “stay away” orders around the pony rides, according to city officials. Volunteers behind this website witnessed and filmed as this was violated repeatedly at the Dec 18th rally.
· Yelling at children and their parents. Volunteers behind this website witnessed and filmed this at the Dec 18th rally, and at the pony rides on days before and after Dec 18th.
· Lying online and in the media by saying that Weeks and his staff physically abused the ponies, hitting them
· Cursing and hurling profanity-filled insults at people who questioned them. Volunteers behind this website witnessed and filmed this at the Dec 18th rally, and at the pony rides on days before and after Dec 18th.
· Harassing pony ride supporters who questioned them online. Footage and proof of this is online in the Facebook group Burbank-Glendale-Griffith Park Equestrians
· Putting out a campaign of misinformation online involving petitions, websites, and social media.
· Spreading misinformation in some cases, outright lies and debunked libelous accusations of animal abuse, to local television media at the protest on December 10th, 2022.
· Leaving death threats in anonymous voicemails to pony rides owner Steve Weeks.
· Harassing local equestrians who reached out to them to ask for clarification about why they were protesting the pony rides.
· Harassing Steve Weeks’ family and daughter online and offline
· Showing up outside councilmembers’ private residences at night and protesting
· Fox11 reported that the activists used “amplification devices and sirens that “scare[d] the children and the ponies.”
· Zohra Fahim openly called for Steve Weeks to be investigated for animal abuse for the natural and accidental deaths of the four retired ponies, with a public post on her Facebook page. On Jan 3rd, she called a press conference demanding an investigation into weeks for animal abuse, which she staged on the steps of Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office. This was despite the vet report from Dr. Rachel Sachar stating that the ponies were well cared-for. This is despite RAP acknowledging that there was no abuse
· Left threatening and anonymous messages for Steve Weeks spewing obscenities, calling him an animal abuser, saying they hoped he got shot, and threatening to sue his organization
· Made other death threats to Steve Weeks
QUESTIONS TO ASK
· Why wasn’t this brought to a public vote or least a series. of public meetings on the matter? Why were all the public meetings between the time Jimmy Kim decided to allow the pony rides contract to expire and the next public opportunity to comment on the expiration cancelled, only reinstated after public outcry?
· Did Jimmy Kim violate the Brown Act (governmental transparency) by refusing to respond to concerned local equestrians who reached out to him?
· Why did Jimmy Kim cite the pony deaths as a reason for allowing the pony rides contract to expire, after Steve Weeks was not required to report them? Does the LA Zoo have to report every single animal death from natural causes or accident?
· Why did the councilmembers claim that protestors outside their homes didn’t affect their decision-making, then rush through the Oct 25th motion, which was then followed by Jimmy Kim’s November 23 letter to Steve Weeks informing him of their decision?
· Why did the councilmembers and Jimmy Kim ignore the findings of the independent third-party veterinarian who monitored the pony rides for one year, finding that they were in full compliance?
· Who benefits from the lease expiring and this land becoming available?
OTHER TALKING POINTS
· Since this all started, the pony rides have had multiple Vet inspections, weekly Vet visits, inspections from the Los Angeles Animal Services and other governmental agencies and have found to be compliant with all animal welfare laws. Steve Weeks hired a full-time Animal Welfare Officer just to assure the ponies receive the best of care. They provide daily ongoing care for the working ponies and their own sanctuary care for their older ponies who they have retired to live out their life on the pony rides’ property without work, because of all they have given to the children of Los Angeles.
· Children from poor families have few if any other opportunities to allow their children to connect with horses and ponies.
· The pony rides provides a unique environment for introducing young children to ponies. In the MerryGoRound, parents hold their kids from ages 1-1/2. On the track, children may ride by themselves from the age of 3 years old. Many riding schools won’t allow kids to start before they turn six. Riding schools also cost an average of $75 per lesson to start, with many costing much more as inflation continues to cause prices across the horse world to skyrocket.
· Horses and ponies are good for the well-being and emotional health of people. They sense human emotion, and respond immediately- their role in therapies for everything from physical disabilities to PTSD for veterans has been well-documented.
· Outlawing the pony rides will inevitably have a domino effect on other local horsekeeping, including boarding operations, and the zoned areas where Angelenos may currently keep horses at their homes.
· The activists showed up outside councilmembers’ homes to protest.
· An employee who works at the pony rides was personally told that the activists were being paid $25/hour. The employee was told this by activists who came down from San Francisco. With the exception of the final two rallies, activists protested every weekend in the months leading up to the closure of the pony rides for exactly two hours.
· Zohra Fahim doesn’t live in Los Angeles, she lives in Escondido. She is not a local, and she has no stake in anything that happens locally. She does however, have a relationship with Nithya Raman, Councilmember for CD4 who was instrumental in getting the pony rides shut down, and previously worked for her office.
· The activists have distorted the truth and done everything they can to show the pony rides in a negative light, while ignoring real animal abuse and neglect that happens daily in other parts of the city.
Where is their outrage for the puppies, kittens, baby rabbits, and chicks that are sold daily, from the backseats of cars in Santee Alley in DTLA? Where is their outrage for the over-crowded shelters, and the kill shelters of Los Angeles? Thousands of pets who end up in shelters are put to sleep every year. It got so bad that, in 2022, Los Angeles lost its much-lauded designation as a “No Kill” city.
Why doesn’t Los Angeles Alliance For Animals focus on those critical issues, instead of attacking a business that has been fully in compliance with city-ordered veterinary recommendations?
· The decision to allow the pony rides contract to expire was rushed through without public comment or oversight.