The beloved pony rides at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo will be giving rides this winter, thanks to a partnership with a new horse ranch in Allen County.
In October, the zoo announced it would not have the pony rides back next year, saying the area where they were needs to be “temporarily repurposed.” That sparked public outcry and even online petitions to save the pony rides.
The zoo still hasn’t said if the pony rides will be asked back after next year. WANE 15 is expecting the zoo to give an update on that decision next month.
In the meantime, thanks to a new partnership with Blackstone Ranch, the pony rides will live on.
“It’s going to be a good opportunity to let the community still enjoy the ponies and I’m looking forward to how it will all work,” Byron Hooley, whose family has run the pony rides at the zoo for 40 years, said.
“This facility is like none other in Fort Wayne. This is unbelievable here. We looked at it and our mouths kind of dropped and we thought, ‘This could work,'” Hooley said.
The 30-acre horse ranch in southwest Allen County just opened last month. The ponies are a perfect partnership.
“What’s so exciting for us and so exciting for me, is a lot of these kids who have been riding the pony just at the zoo are now able to learn to actually ride and can take beginner lessons on the same pony that they’ve been used to,” Sydney Shank, the Blackstone Ranch Barn Manager, said. “You have to have good, safe lesson horses. You can’t just use any horse.”
Because the ponies are used to kids riding them, they’re great for children first learning to ride.
“These ponies like to work. When they have a day off at the zoo, they’re at the gate wanting to work,” Hooley said. “We have a nice set of ponies right now. It takes a long time to get a set that works well together. We’ll have some of our staff members work with the ponies here [at the ranch].”
Of course, the classic pony rides will also continue. Every weekend, people can come to the ranch for pony rides just like they used to at the zoo, only these rides will be longer and can happen in the winter thanks to an indoor, heated arena.
“People wanting things to do on the weekends in the cold winter months can come out to Blackstone Ranch and ride to their heart’s content and continue to enjoy the ponies,” Hooley said.
While kids wait for their turn to ride a pony, they can also meet the rest of the ten-pony team. Blackstone Ranch also plans to have a pony club where kids can learn more about the animals, ranching, riding and horse care. There will also be opportunities to have pony parties too.
The weekend pony rides at Blackstone Ranch start December 4th and will be every Saturday and Sunday through at least April from 11 am to 4 pm. Santa will also be there the weekend before Christmas.
The Hooley family still hopes to return the pony rides to the zoo, but the zoo has not made a decision yet on if or when they could come back. The online petition to the zoo to bring the ponies back has nearly 3,800 signatures, including the mayor’s wife Cindy Henry.
Anyone interested in riding lessons can contact Blackstone Ranch at (260) 673-5909. It’s located at 10127 Kress Road.