Why Pony Rides Are Not Animal Cruelty: A Horse Trainer's Opinion
I know this is the good ol' U.S. of A. where we all are allowed to have our own opinions and speak freely on them. In my opinion, though, before you start speaking freely on your opinions, you should educate yourselves on what you are talking about. So, allow me to enlighten any of you who think the ponies who work in my pony rides are cruelly enslaved.
Horses Are Not Wild Animals Anymore
Horses are no longer wild animals. We have domesticated them, and they would have no idea how to live in the wild. Not to mention, where the heck would we turn loose all the horses in the world for them to run free? Suburban sprawl has taken away all that open space. They would starve to death and cause car accidents.
We Can't Make Horses Do What They Don't Want to Do
Horses are 1,000-pound animals, and we can't make them do anything. Anyone who knows horses knows that you can't force a 1,000-pound animal to do something that it doesn't want to do. One would think that would be common sense.
Horses are flight animals. They are reactive to things they are afraid of. If they really were that scared or abused, they would not do what we asked them to do. There would be nothing we would be able to do about it. Ask anyone who has ever tried to load a horse on a horse trailer when it didn't feel like it or tried to get a horse to take oral medication. If they aren't comfortable with something, they won't do it. There is no making them!
We Train Them for the Job
Since over the passage of time we have domesticated horses, we have had to train them and acclimate them to doing the things we want them to do. In order for us tiny humans to be safe around even the smallest horse, we have to use gentle training methods. Good trainers help the horse to understand what they want them to do. Horses speak to each other in body language, and people who understand how it works use that to train horses.
The Training for Pony Ride Ponies
Since I'm speaking specifically of pony ride ponies, they are taught to be mannerly when led and not to pull or push on the handler. They are taught to stop and stand still while the rider is lifted on and off. Another big part of training a pony ride pony is exposure to different environments. We take them places to work that a pony normally wouldn't go. In order to be a pony ride pony, it requires the gentlest of temperaments, and most that are that gentle aren't bothered by the changes in their environment. It's all the same to them. It's their job!
We take the time to make sure that every single one of them is calm and comfortable with their surroundings. Why? Because we are responsible for every child we put on that pony for the few minutes they walk around that circle. We want to make sure that they are safe and have a great experience. In this litigious world that we live in, you can never be too careful. We make sure our ponies are calm and content in their work so the riders will be safe.
Worked Too Hard? Yea Right!
May I remind you that this country was built on the back of a horse. Before we had cars and trains and planes, horses took us everywhere. They delivered our mail before mail trucks, farmed our farms before tractors and transported us from place to place before cars and trucks. They are big, strong, powerful animals. They worked constantly!
My pony ride ponies are specifically pony ride ponies. Most of them aren't even used for lessons. What's my point? They only work on weekends most of the time.
The Life of a Pony Ride Pony
They ride in a trailer with hay in front of their face, then get out and stand in a stall with hay and water in front of them. They work for an hour and a half at a time, then go back to the stall again (where the food and water is). We make sure they get breakfast at their regularly scheduled time before they leave and bring their dinner so they don't get off their feeding schedule while on the job.
Did I mention that our pony ride business has a weight limit for riders? This is mostly because our staff has to lift the kids up onto the ponies, and there is only so much they can lift over and over again all day. The weight limit on my pony ride ponies is 50 pounds. That is next to nothing for a pony to carry.
This particular venue I'm talking about runs from 10 am–7 pm. We take either three or four ponies on any given day. Each works an hour and a half at a time and then breaks. You do the math. That is more than reasonable considering all they do is stand around all week long and eat.
It's a Seasonal Job
One other thing: Not only do the ponies only work weekends, but people don't generally have pony parties and book pony ride ponies in the winter when the weather is questionable.
Our business is very seasonal—mostly fall and spring. We have rockstar pony ride ponies who work for us so well during the busy season that we are perfectly happy for them to stand around and do nothing during the offseason.
Mind you, unlike other sorts of attractions that don't require maintenance when they aren't being used, ours do. We still have to feed, water, clean up after, and pay for a vet and farrier for them, even when they aren't bringing in money to support themselves.
Since it is a business, we need all aspects to be in good working order for our business to run smoothly. In other words, we take good care of our ponies and in return, they work for us a few months out of the year. Literally, sometimes they will go from Labor Day to almost Memorial Day without a single days work. Doesn't sound like such a bad gig does it?
We Find a New Home and Purpose for Old Ponies
Old ponies have little to no value in the horse world, which puts them at risk of being passed around from owner to owner and ending up who knows where. We look for these ponies specifically. We give them a purpose. Horses and ponies are expensive and for most people, if they aren't useful, they are sent down the road and a younger version is purchased.
Our business giving pony rides is providing a safe place for these older ponies to go where they can still be useful and make money. Not to mention all the attention and treats they get being loved on by the kids.
The stories you hear about horses and ponies ending up in bad places a lot of the time all start because a horse or pony is old and has worn out it's usefulness to its owner. As they say, one man's trash is another man's treasure; these ponies often thrive with an easy job and lots of attention.
Those of us giving pony rides on old, gentle ponies are often times keeping them from being put down or ending up in a bad situation. How is that cruel or unethical? In my opinion, it would be crueler to just let them be sold at auction or ignored in a field somewhere.
We Are Proud of What We Do!
I know that you are not concerned about humans, only the ethical treatment of animals. What you call ethical I call something else. You do your thing, we will do ours.
I proudly say I give pony rides. I provide an experience that a lot of children would not normally get to have. I provide a loving home and a job for an older group of ponies that have outlived their usefulness to others. We even have kept the ones that have outlived their usefulness to us because we feel they deserve to live out their lives in comfort.
The Importance of Horses and Ponies to People
Horses and ponies in general touch so many people in so many ways. You know Winston Churchill said, ". . . there is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man."
They aren't wild animals anymore and there is no way around it. It's just the facts. We have domesticated them and we now provide them with the training and care they need to serve a purpose in our modern world. Everything in the world serves some kind of purpose, In my opinion, there is nothing cruel, or unethical about that. In fact, I believe the majority of horse and pony owners go above and beyond to provide their horses with "ethical treatment".
I'm not going to lie and say I appreciate your concern for my ponies, I don't. In fact, I don't like it and wish you would mind your own business. I'm certain that there are much more noble causes in the world that could use a voice.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.