Monday, August 29, 2011
Wheel of Ponies
It's a common sight, the "wheel of ponies", at the fair. Not a pretty sight, but a common one. The ponies are pretty but the job is miserable. There are, however, some pony ride operations that are concerned with the ponies well-being and have leaders for the ponies and enough ponies that they can be rotated throughout the day. I worked at one such operation as my first Summer job. The pony ride pavilion was a roadside attraction and even though the ponies were hitched to the wheel, an over-sized wagon wheel type structure with a slot for each pony, there was a grass paddock also, so that only 3 of 4 ponies were working at a time. During the day, I switched out ponies from one place to another. No pony had a shift more than 2 hours long. I loved that job. Some of the ponies loved that job. Some did not. The deal with the wheel is that whether or not a pony likes or wants to do his job, in the wheel, he gets dragged along or pushed from behind regardless of his motivation. The other ponies do the pushing or pulling. My favorite pony, Ruby, arrived each morning prancing on her way to the pavilion snorting, "Bring on the kids!"
With my supervision, the ponies were pampered, having their hair done, getting extra brushing, having frequent breaks and snacks, sprayed with repellent to protect them from mosquitoes dwelling at the nearby pond, and I made sure that kids too heavy for the ponies were politely told that the ponies were for small children only. Not all ponies fare as well. Some pony wheels are set up without a cover for shade or the ponies stay on the wheel for many hours each day. As a small child, I was oblivious to the plight of the ponies and could only revel in my joy of sitting on a real live pony, petting it's warm neck and whispering to it during my 2 minute ride, being completely sure that the pony recognized me as an expert equestrian. From the photos of those rides, it looks as though the ponies, while not in any way bursting with joy as Ruby was, at least were in good health.
Even though the pony wheel is a mundane life, for some ponies it is the only job they could have. Not all little-enough-for-the-wheel ponies have enough training to be suitable mounts for any other riding. It's hard to find a job for such small animals, and ponies , like all horses, need to have a source of exercise for their mental and physical health. Exercise does not have to be torturous, however. Before allowing children to contribute to the existence of pony wheels, please do a quick inspection of the ponies' condition. Are the ponies bony? They should not have hips like cows or have visible ribs. Conversely, neither should they resemble fuzzy manatees. Being obese is as bad for ponies as being underweight. Are the ponies under cover, protected from rain and sun? Don't be afraid to ask if the ponies get breaks from the wheel and for water. Do they look healthy in general with clear, open eyes, clean hair and skin, noses free of discharge and well-trimmed hooves? The hoof edges should be smooth, not splayed or ragged, and the hooves short, growing relatively straight down from the leg. If they are long and elf-shoe-ish, they need trimming. As I politely mentioned before, pony rides are for small children. If your child is taller than the pony, then find an alternative ride. A child weighing more than 80 pounds may be too heavy for the ponies. Some larger, sturdier ponies can carry over 100 pounds comfortably, but not your average pony-ride pony. For the ride, please instruct your child to sit quietly and not to kick the pony or squiggle about in the saddle.
Ponies are cute and fluffy but they are most definitely not playthings. They need to be treated with respect and dignity as should be all living beings. Except mosquitoes. I don't think anyone would fault you for disrespecting a mosquito.