By Daniel Larios
July 1, 2014 – The battle over the pony rides at the Santa Monica Farmers Market on Main Street has won the backing of major political and civic leaders who have signed an e-petition to shut down the popular Sunday attraction.
Nearly 900 people have signed the petition, which will be submitted to the Santa Monica City Council, since former congressional candidate Marcy Winograd launched the drive March 30.
They include school board members Ben Allen and Oscar de la Torre, Planning Commissioners Sue Himmelrich and Richard McKinnon and Residocracy founder Armen Melkonians. Allen is seeking a seat on the State Senate, while Himmelrich and McKinnon are expected to run for City Council.
“There, every Sunday, six ponies – some of them dragging their feet, having trouble walking – are tethered to a metal bar and forced to plod for hours in tiny circles on hard hot cement, while bands, often loud, blare next to the ponies’ sensitive ears,” Winograd wrote in a statement.
Winograd, a Santa Monica resident, also wants to shut down the petting zoo, which, along with the ponies, is owned by Tawni Angel, claiming that there are clear indications of animal abuse.
“One day… [an] out of town guests asked me, ‘What’s wrong with Santa Monica? Why do the people here tolerate this abuse?’” Winograd wrote.
“Speechless, I felt ashamed, not only for my city, but for myself, for my silence. I am no longer silent in the face of animal cruelty disguised as benign children’s entertainment.”
City officials have looked into Winograd’s claims and found them without merit.
“That’s more a matter of personal opinion rather than evidence of animal abuse,” Farmers Market Supervisor Laura Avery told The Lookout.
“We have sent animal control to check out these allegations. We had veterinarians and multiple experts look at the animals and they didn’t find any evidence of abuse.”
Avery said the operator of the attraction takes good care of the animals, many of which she rescues.
“The company is fully licensed and has been in operation for over ten years,” Avery said. “The animals are fed, given water and cared for by the operator, who also heads an animal rescue and is a lifelong animal lover.
“Of course there is no animal abuse going on,” she added. “It’s been asked and answered for so long now.”
Councilmember Kevin McKeown told the Lookout that he has made repeated inquiries over the past year into the allegations.
“There are laws and standards for animal abuse, and City staff investigation has consistently determined no violation,” McKeown said.
“A more germane question might be whether pony rides and petting zoos are appropriate in Santa Monica, even if no legally-proscribed animal abuse is involved.”
Despite what officials say, Winograd announced on Monday the launching of freethepony.org, a site she hopes will rally residents into action.
The site features photos of alleged animal abuses, a link to her Moveon.org petition and ways to replace the rides with alternative vendors.
"Imagine how wonderful our Main Street market would be for our Ocean Park neighborhood if it offered humane and creative ways to engage our children,” Winograd wrote in a press release.
“Instead of teaching our children that tethering and trapping animals is the norm, let’s encourage our families to participate in food decoration, organic food preparation, book-making, and puppet shows. Now that would be exciting. Surely, we can find a Buy Local or Santa-Monica based vendor to greet our families as they enter the market.”
Tawni Angel, who owns and operates the pony rides and petting zoo, is fighting back with her own petition, entitled “Please help stop Marcy Winograd’s effort to Ban Pony Rides & Petting Farms in Santa Monica,” which currently has 748 signatures.
“My love for animals and children is what prompted me to start a small family owned and operated business bringing farm animals to city folks in 2003,” reads the petition written by Angel.
“Growing up with my love for horses and animals I must say I too have been weary of pony and petting farm companies in the past, wondering how they treat and care for their animals when they are not working. That is why I vowed to do this differently.”
Angel continues, “Our ponies live on a 5 acre farm where they are free to roam all week, occasionally they will attend children’s birthday parties where we hand lead them around backyards and parks giving children the opportunity to ride, pet, brush and love on a pony.”