18 November

Tawni Angel’s Petition: Saving Pony Rides, Ponies, Saving Animal Rights

by Jon Katz
Saving The Animals
Saving The Animals

Today, an opportunity to join a new social movement that hopes to speak for the rights of animals and the people who own, live and work with them in a humane and loving way. You can sign a petition, I think of it as the Magna Carta of the new awakening.

Tawni Angel is asking the Santa Monica City Council members to reconsider their decision to exclude all animal activities from the Main Street Farmers Market in that city, and allow Tawnis Ponies – her  company – to “continue providing pony rides and farm animal interaction to children in your community.”

She is asking friends, supporters and people who support the real rights of animals to sign her petition.

She is seeking 2,500 signatures on her petition. At stake is the way of life, sustenance and reputation of an honest and hard-working human being and animal lover. Also at stake is the right of animals to remain in our world, and a rejection of cruelty, the abuse of people, the false accusations and profound ignorance about animals and their rights and welfare that has come to characterize the most powerful elements of the animal rights movement.

What happened to Tawni Angel has happened to thousands of people – farmers, circuses, research facilities, students, carriage horses, owners of dogs and cats, too often innocent people persecuted without due process or fairness. Animals are not being saved, simply driven off. The animal rights movement in its current form is killing many more animals than it is saving.

What happened to Tawni Angel has happened to the New York Carriage Trade who, like Tawni, is fighting back. In New York City, perhaps our most progressive city, the horses and their drivers are turning back the campaign against them. It  has also been marked by false accusations, personal attacks and cruelty.

In August, in a hurried late night meeting, the Santa Monica City Council voted 4-0 to end Tawni Angel’s decade old contract with the farmer’s market, where she was offering pony rides to an average of 300 children a week.  In all her years working at the market, there has been no evidence of any kind of mistreatment of her animals.

The council acted after a small group of animal rights activists began suddenly picketing the pony rides,  declaring that the ponies were being abused by carrying children in rides, that the rides were the equivalent of “torture” for them, that they had no fresh water, were working in extreme heat, had cracked hooves and were chained too severely to move their heads properly. These activists had simply redefined our understanding of abuse, which is a crime, not an argument or opinion on Facebook.

At least three inquiries found every single one of the charges against Tawni Angel to be false. So the animal rights activists – one a former unsuccessful congressional candidate who said she was certain her accusations were true because she had three rescue cats – changed tactics and began poring through Tawni Angel’s Facebook and social media posts and photos on her blog. In secret messages to members of the Santa Monica City Council, they reported that Angel drank vodka, liked to shoot guns, and opposed President Obama’s immigration policies.

Tawni Angel was not informed of these accusations, nor given a chance to review them and respond. The many people who have met Angel and known her for years eagerly testify that she is a wonderful mother and wife, and a lovely human being with a lot of passionate ideas about life. By every account, she is a responsible and loving animal owner.

Scores of children signed petitions on her behalf asking the council to keep the rides which are, for many of them, their only encounter with real animals that are not pets. In fact, say many parents who brought their children to the rides, Angel has always emphasized the proper and gentle handling of animals to her  young riders. She sees her role  as educating the young about the true nature of animals, most of whom have vanished from their lives. Many of them, she says, have never seen a chicken.

People like Tawni Angel are defending a way of life, just like the New York Carriage Horse owners and drivers. They do not make a lot of money. She lives week-to-week on what she earns at the farmers market. The rides are her sustenance and her way of maintaining her five-acre farm. If her contract is not renewed, she will have to seek new homes for her ponies at a time when 155,000 horses a year are being slaughtered in Canada and Mexico.

Animals are rapidly vanishing from our world, especially animals who cannot find work and meaning for people. Tawni’s ponies are among the safest and best-cared for animals on the earth – and the luckiest. One of the very startling arguments advanced by the protestors was the idea that animals should never be used for the pleasure or entertainment of people. It is hard to fathom the idea that it is wrong for children to enjoy being with animals and riding on horses – a beloved tradition and pastime for many thousands of years.

On Sunday July 13, Angel’s husband, Jason Nester, called 911 to report that a group of protestors were blocking the sidewalk at the farmer’s market, protesting the pony rides. Sgt. Mike Graham, a former horse owner and the former supervisor of the Santa Monica Police Department’s Animal Control Unit, was sent to inspect the pony rides and look for evidence of animal abuse.

Last week, I read Sgt. Graham’s  report, these are his own words:

I examined the ride set-up. The horses appeared in to be in good condition – their body weight appeared normal, their fur was clean and brushed, their manes and tails were brushed and healthy, the ground around them was clean and evenly flat, they walked on sawdust shavings, and there was no visible urine or feces. The equipment – saddles, bridles, and (thick) pads were in good condition. The horses were “quiet” and well behaved. I saw nothing to make me believe the horses were ill-treated, unhealthy, malnourished, injured, or in discomfort. The horses did not appear hot, were not sweating, and were on a timed (30 minute alarm,) water-break schedule.

I saw that as the horses walked in circles, their speed and disposition was constant and calm. Their path took them in and out of shade from the sun.

I answered [a protestor’s] questions, shared with her my observations of the health and overall good condition of the horses, explained that they were in the shade an equal amount of time that they were in the sun, and told her that it was in fact “not” hot. (Horses live and work in places much hotter than coastal communities with cool ocean breezes.) I told her that the length of the “lead ropes” that connected them to the “hot walker” poles was long enough to give them head movement, but not long enough to allow them to turn around. (She wanted them to be free to turn around. I explain how inappropriate and unsafe that would be for the child riders if the horses could turn 360 degrees during the ride.)”

Tawni Angel is a powerful  symbol of our need to reclaim the right of animals to have people who know and love them speak for them. The foremost right of animals is to survive in our greedy and distracted world.

People like Tawni Angel make that possible. I hope that the City Council will reconsider it’s hasty and poorly considered decision and reject the idea that it is all right to trample on the rights of people in the name of loving animals. The role of government is to protect freedom and property, wrote Thomas Jefferson, not take them away without cause.  None of the charges against Tawni Angel were found to be true – not a single one (it seems she does like vodka and enjoys shooting guns legally).

I signed Tawni’s petition this morning, and I hope you will consider doing the same. The New York Carriage Horses have sparked a new awakening, they are turning the tide in New York City, they have fought the efforts to ban them to a complete standstill. I believe they will prevail there. It can be done. Brave people like Tawni Angel have begun to protest arrogance and dishonesty and bullying. They are righting for their animals and their right to live with them.

So Tawni Angel, who quietly and successfuly ran her small farm for years without complaint or controversy, is now a warrior, even a hero, in the deepening conflict over the future of animals in our world. She is a good one, tough and strong. We need a new and more loving and mystical understanding of animals, we need a movement that has a more powerful vision for them than polarizing human beings, driving animals away from people, and accelerating their disappearance  from our world.

Animals and people both are entitled to rights and dignity. Tawni Angel’s petition is brand new, you can see it here. Help save the ponies.

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