All the pretty (little) horses

Lynn Hagemann

Photo by Larry Dalton

Everybody likes ponies. If you don’t like ponies you’re probably some kind of freak. And judging by the gentle manners of the ponies at Land Park Pony Ride, these stubby equines like pretty much everybody else too. With a few notable exceptions. As pony ride owner and operator Lynn Hagemann explains, only screaming monkeys and druggies can put a burr under the saddle of one of these pretty little horses.

The pony rides are located in Land Park near the Sacramento Zoo and are open every day except Monday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Everybody likes ponies, huh?

A lot of boys don’t like ponies. Girls go nuts for ponies. But I don’t know why exactly. They are very smart. We have a pony named Frosty. She knows how to tell time. When it’s four o’clock, time to go home, she will walk up and stand at the gate. She used to lift the latch up and push the gate open and go trotting out to eat grass. My son put a post there so she couldn’t push it open. But now she just lifts the latch up and pulls it open the other way. She’s smart as can be.

We do have some people, adults, who are scared to death of ponies and we have to walk the animals around for them. It’s sad really because when you get a little kid on the pony and the parent is scared to death then the kid starts crying and wants to get down.

What do you look for in a pony?

We try to buy lazy ponies. All of these ponies are older. None of them are young. Young ponies are nothing but trouble.

How so?

They’re spooky. They’re not used to a lot of noises, cars backfiring, skateboards going down the road, that sort of thing. So sometimes they’ll spook and try to run, just take off. So we buy older ponies that have been passed from home to home because they’re used to a lot more noises and kids. We won’t buy it unless it’s at least twelve years old. Kids outgrow them, they want to go on to a horse, or the novelty has worn off. A lot of them wind up at the auction. It’s really loud at the auctions. If you see a pony at the auction standing around with his head down and he looks bored to death, you know he’s been around and he’s seen a lot and he’s probably going to be really gentle. We’ve made mistakes of course. Sometimes they’re a little spooky and they can’t seem to get used to the animal noises [from the Sacramento Zoo next door]. Those monkeys scream like crazy, sometimes the ponies can’t seem to get used to the noises.

We have one pony that is 33 years old. His name is Hershey. He only works a little bit. He’ll make about ten rounds with a baby, under 35 pounds you know. Him and Buster over there. They’ll just make a few rounds with the babies and then that’s it.

We’ve had a couple of ponies get to be 36, 37. You know, it seems like if we retire them and don’t use them, then they die on us for some reason. If we keep using them just a tiny little bit, they stay healthy as can be.

So sometimes the ponies get spooky. Any disasters?

We’ve had some close calls. But thank gosh we’ve never had a kid hurt. We’ve had a couple of parents get skinned up. Sometimes the parents will let go of the lead. Then when the pony goes ahead the parents will scream at the pony and try to grab the lead and hang on to it and the pony will take off so the parent will trip and fall and skin their leg or something. But the kids never fall off or get hurt. The biggest problems are if the parents let go of the lead or if the kids start kicking the heck out of the pony.

Kids can be rambunctious, what about the adults?

It’s the adults who are the most trouble. Just last week we had a lady, about 25 years old. She got on this big horse and her husband started leading her. I turned my back to help someone else when she was about a third of the way around the track. All the sudden I heard this noise. Would you believe that horse was galloping. She had just started kicking the heck out of the horse and it started galloping all the way around the trail, not trotting, galloping. Then I stopped them. I yelled my head off. I said “What do you think you’re doing!” She said “Oh, I just wanted to run, sooorrry.” I said “You’re not sorry. You did it on purpose,” and she said “sooorrry.” and I just grabbed the horse and tied him up. She must have been on drugs or something.

You see we have signs saying don’t let go of the lead. A man came in with a little girl of about 6 years old. And he asked, “What happens if you let go of the lead?” I said they’re all different, some will just stand there, some will go eat grass. So what did he do? His little girl was on there and dropped the strap and starting hitting the pony on the rump trying to make it take off. I yelled at him too. I told him not to come back.

Is the pony ride business lucrative?

This time of year it’s the slowest. The fair is coming, school is coming, so people are spending their money on school clothes. But on the weekends it’s pretty good. It’s not a moneymaker really. It keeps us going. I love the job. I love working outdoors, I love the animals and I love the kids but it’s not a moneymaker.