After thousands of people sign a petition to ban pony-painting parties, H&H asked welfare charities and those who offer the activity for their views
Welfare charities have given their take on “pony-painting parties” after 175,000 people (now 283,000) signed a petition calling on the government to ban the practice.
Supporters have described the painting of ponies as “disgraceful” and “demeaning” — but charities agree that as long as welfare is priority, there should not be any ill effects.
“While painting any animal is certainly not to everyone’s taste, we do not feel there is necessarily a welfare issue, provided the horses or ponies are not showing any signs of distress and the paint is non-toxic,” World Horse Welfare deputy chief executive Tony Tyler told H&H.
“Many horses and ponies greatly enjoy human interaction and attention. It is very important to stress, though, that if a pony was not of a suitable temperament, then it should not be used for this! Where we do have cause for concern is with large groups of children crowding a horse or pony as this could be distressing for the pony, and dangerous.”Mr Tyler cited the painting of equine anatomy on to horses, often used as a training aid, and reiterated that welfare must be the top consideration.“There are, however, many more pressing welfare issues such as obesity, delayed death and the long-distance transport of horses across Europe for slaughter,” he said. “We would ask that the public consider how they can support welfare organisations working hard to put an end to these problems.”The Blue Cross agrees, telling H&H that while it is pleased by public concern for equine welfare, it “does not put pony painting at the top of the list of causes for alarm”.
“As long as the ponies have a good quality of life, where all their needs are met, we don’t believe properly supervised pony painting, using non-toxic paints, is harmful,” said rehoming manager Rosie Mogford. “Is it any worse than things such as clipping, mane and tail plaiting or fancy dress?
“Pony painting may be a good way to introduce children to ponies, to teach them the rudiments of handling and conformation and help them build respect for ponies before they move on to riding.
“We would encourage people who care about horses to put their energies into raising the profile of some of the most serious compromises to welfare, where collective action can help to make a real difference.”
The educational aspect was also cited by the British Horse Society (BHS), whose changing Lives Through Horses initiative has proved the power of equines.
“The BHS promotes respectful engagement between ponies and young people,” said BHS welfare director Gemma Stanford. “Our Changing Lives programme has demonstrated that simply being in the company of equines can be a powerful way of inspiring young people to reconnect with society; the unique equestrian environment provides a sense of structure and responsibility, and taking the time to carefully groom a horse or pony is a key part of building up a mutually rewarding relationship.
“‘Pony parties’ can be a fun way for younger children to learn about ponies and understand regular grooming is an important part of pony care. The welfare of the equine should always come first. Appropriate use of suitable paint — for instance, to illustrate anatomy — can provide educational value, but we would not encourage the excessive use of paint for pure entertainment purposes.”
Kate Harris, of Hollybush Stables, Surrey, provides proof of the power painting ponies can have in changing lives. Hollybush provides the activity as part of its equine healing programme, and Kate said the sensory experience of applying non-toxic paint to equines’ outer hair provides huge benefits.
“It gives children a chance to get close to a pony which they wouldn’t otherwise do,” she told H&H. “It’s a very powerful tool in helping children with autism — and my ponies love it.”
Hollybush has felt the backlash from the widespread public outrage, but Kate said the painting is “no different to grooming”.
“It goes on the top layer of hair and is washed off immediately,” she said. “I’ve been doing this for 10 years and there’s been no ill effects on my ponies; it’s very carefully managed and monitored.
“I have one or two children at a time, purely for therapy and confidence building. I’ve been in horses 30 years and I thought this was a wonderful idea; it’s sad when there are so many animals being abused, it’s silly to target this.”
Debbie Priest, of Clip Clop Pony Rides, takes ponies resplendent in colour and unicorn horns to events, also raising funds for welfare charity Brooke.
“[This reaction] is ridiculous,” she told H&H. “I’d be the first to speak up if an animal wasn’t being treated properly; I think there’s a lack of education here.
“Most of my ponies are older and they’ve got a good job, rather than being left in a field to get laminitic — and it’s really good for them.
“We’re lucky to have horses in our lives; this way other people can too.”
This news story was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (30 August, 2018)
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