Ramadan bazaars in Singapore are a visual spectacle – the twinkly lights, the colourful signs from the stalls, the variety of food – and ponies?
At least that’s the case at the Geylang Serai Ramadan bazaar.
Gallop Stable – who runs stables in Bukit Timah and Pasir Ris Park – set up an area at the bazaar offering pony rides for kids, feeding and photo sessions and art activities. Sounds pretty innocent right?
Recently, the pony rides have gone viral online – and not in a good way. Wildlife rescue and welfare organization ACRES weighed in the issue and stated that using animals purely for entertainment should not be encouraged at events.
Co-founder Anbarasi Boopal said in an interview with Yahoo, “Why are we bringing in live animals for the purposes of entertainment because there is no educational value?
She added that someone had forwarded a picture of the alleged carriage transporting the six ponies.
From the horse’s mouth
A spokesperson from Gallop Stable told Coconuts that they were taken aback by Animal Concerns Research and Education Society’s (ACRES) remarks, stating that it stems from their limited knowledge of Gallop’s intentions. They also said that they would be open to have a “proper dialogue” regarding the issue.
“But as a concern party(s) of our animals welfare, we treasure their values and we hope to provide them with more insight on our intentions and further explain our roles at Gallop if necessary,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson also explained to Coconuts that the ponies are specially trained and selected to interact with people, especially with children.
“They are born and bred in Malaysia known as Bajau ponies (Kuda padi) and they are usually used for performance and events and adaptable to our topical weather,” the spokesperson added.
Through the past 20 years of experience with these ponies, Gallop said that they find these ponies to be “cooperative, friendly and very sturdy in all aspects of performances.”
ACRES’ stand with the animals
ACRES have always been adamant about their stance on using animals as entertainment. In April 2005, they launched a campaign to end the use of wild animals in shows at the Singapore Zoo and Night Safari because they claimed that most of the acts that the animals are made to perform are unnatural.
The Zoo took their advice and in May 2005, put an end to the existing long-standing “Spirits of the Rainforest” show and introduced a new “Wonders of the Wild” show. The new show appeared to be more focused on making the animals display natural, species-appropriate behaviours.
Singapore’s law on animal shows
In 2002, Singapore banned circus animal shows – and one of the reasons was that the prolonged periods spent by the wild animals in cages and containers used to transport them affects their welfare and health.
However, the ban only applies to performances using wild animals in travelling circuses. Performances involving the use of domesticated animals such as dogs, cats, horses, sheep, goat, pigs and birds will not be affected by the ban.
It is believed that these animals are much less a danger to the public and do not have to be confined the way wild animals are. They are also often treated as pets and have close interaction with their owners and handlers.
Home for the horses
Gallop Stable have been around since 2003, providing affordable riding classes and an easier and inexpensive way for the public to get close to horses and ponies.
According the official website, besides the line-up of friendly ponies they have, most of Gallop Stable’s resident horses used to be racehorses that are given a new lease of life.
It read, “Gallop Stable gives these horses a second chance at life by retraining them for riding activities and bringing joy to all our students and riders at Gallop Stable.”
“Transportation of ponies are done with licensed and approved horse trailer to ensure safety and comfort throughout the journey. Loading and unloading are done in a secluded area inaccessible to the public. Rest areas and isolation areas are designed to be away from public views.”Spokesperson from Gallop Stable
The show pony life
The Gallop Stable spokesperson stated that all ponies are worked based on rotations such that each pony will not be providing more than one hour of work, especially for the rides.
The six ponies at the bazaar will be rotated between the various activities like rides, photos, feeding and also rest. Gallop pointed out that the time and distance traveled for the rides were limited.
In response to allegations about the transportation, Gallop said, “Transportation of ponies are done with licensed and approved horse trailer to ensure safety and comfort throughout the journey. Loading and unloading are done in a secluded area inaccessible to the public. Rest areas and isolation areas are designed to be away from public views.”
“On site, we have trained handlers and trainers at all times throughout the activity to ensure the safety and well-being of the animals. Operations of activities are being reconsidered to the evening phases where the weather can be more acceptable and at the discretion of the trainer on site.”
“What is the message that we are sending to the masses about the use of animals for entertainment?”Anbarasi boopal, Acres
Following ACRES’ comments and an undisclosed complaint, the Animal and Veterinary Service (AVS) is not also now looking into the matter.
The AVS, which is a part of the National Parks Board (NParks, warned that Gallop Stable should comply with requirements like giving the ponies enough rest. They will also continue to monitor the pony event at the bazaar and conduct compliance checks until the event concludes on April 21.
ACRES are also expected to send a joint letter with other animal welfare organizations to AVS to raise their concerns over the ponies’ use.
There’s no doubt that pony rides are a popular activity with children – whether it is at the bazaar or beyond. While it is apparent that the welfare of their horses and ponies are important to them, the case of Gallop Stable is a debatable one.
In an interview, the Gallop Stable founder said that setting up the pony area was them “giving back” to people who cannot afford such access to ponies during Ramadan.
On top of this, there is also research on how horses and ponies have helped with mental health therapy.
In her argument, ACRES’ Boopal also brought up a question: “What is the message that we are sending to the masses about the use of animals for entertainment?”
Is it entertainment, or is it – as Gallop Stables have put it – giving back to the community?
At the moment Gallop Stables said that they will still keep the pony area running at the bazaar and would be happy to explain – and show – to everyone that their animals’ welfare comes first.
Coconuts also reached out to the Geylang Bazaar organizers but they have yet to reply.
Ramadan bazaars have made headlines this year with criticism against organizers of Bazar Raya Utara in Marsiling who drew flak for allowing pork to be sold at its stalls.
Other stories to check out:
It’s the season of Ramadan bazaars and while the ongoing one at Geylang Serai is often known as the big or main one in the city, there are a couple…
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