Fort Wayne zoo’s pony rides out for 2022

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — The pony ride attraction at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo will not be back for the 2022 season.

A picture of Kristin Bodkin’s son, 4, riding the ponies.

“The area of the Zoo dedicated to the Pony Trail needs to be temporarily repurposed for the next reimagined animal area of the Zoo with construction to start in the near future, meaning the attraction will not be part of the Zoo experience in 2022,” wrote Bonnie Kemp, the zoo’s director of communications in an email to WANE 15.

Kemp added that the zoo hasn’t made any “definitive decisions or plans” on how the attraction’s area will be used in the future, or if the pony rides will return in 2023 and beyond. The zoo also did not disclose what the “reimagined animal area” might be. Kemp said the zoo was in the fundraising stages.

WANE 15 was told the zoo’s executive director, Rick Schuiteman, was unavailable to provide additional insight regarding the future of the pony ride attraction.

The pony rides, run by the Hooley family, have been considered a staple at the zoo for the past 40 years.

“I think it’s devastating,” said Kristin Bodkin, a Fort Wayne resident. “It’s devastating for the community, it’s devastating for all the kids that love to go to the zoo and ride the ponies… My son, that’s the first place we go every time we go to the zoo is straight to the ponies.”

On Sept. 18 of this year, the family created the Hooley Pony Rides in Fort Wayne Facebook page. The page called for Facebook users to help the family to share their pony ride pictures and stories.

“We know there are THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of you out there that have experienced the Hooley Pony Rides over the past 40 years (holy cow that’s a long time)!!! We want to FIND YOU!” said the post. “You have no idea how we have been BLOWN AWAY by the calls, texts and DMs over the past couple of days with our social media launch. We have all become mushy puddles of emotions.”

One of the testimonials submitted to the page said, “to say we love the pony rides at the zoo is an understatement! I grew up riding them, then started working there, took my nieces, now take my own babies! …. And that Hooley family… they are simply the greatest.”

The zoo closes for the 2021 season on Oct. 31. The ponies will be available for rides on the weekends until then.

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