By Antonia Cimini and Antony Paone
PARIS (Reuters) - Paris will ban pony rides for children in its public parks from 2025 following a campaign by animal rights activists who argue that the ponies are not well treated.
Pony rides have been a popular feature in Paris parks like Champ de Mars, Parc Monceau and Parc du Luxembourg for decades, mostly in the weekends and during school holidays.
Animal rights groups have campaigned for years to ban the rides, arguing that ponies have to work long days without ever having their bit removed, have no permanent access to fresh water and hay, and suffer hours in transport trucks into town.
"Ponies are not toys. Children learn nothing about them from these walks, no emotional link is created. It just turns ponies into entertainment objects," Paris Animaux Zoopolis (PAZ) activist Amandine Sansivens said.
A PAZ petition to ban the rides has gathered more than 8,400 signatures.
After introducing a charter for the well-being of ponies in 2021, city hall last month decided to phase out the ride operators' licences.
Stephane Michaud, director of AnimaPoney - which operated pony rides in several Paris parks but has now closed half of these - said his ponies work only about 150 days per year.
At his Rambouillet pony center south of Paris, he said that from the nineties he had started bringing ponies from the countryside into Paris because at the time ponies were kept in stables in the city in less-than-optimal conditions.
"I have been working with ponies for 35 years, I know their needs. They have everything they need," he said.
Parisians taking their offspring on a pony ride had doubts about the ban.
"For the kids it is a treat. They love the contact with the ponies," said Celine Papouin, whose daughter confidently sat astride a pony in Parc Monceau.
Meryem, 63, walking with two ponies on a leash, each carrying one grandchild, said if the rides are banned, city hall should explain its reasons.
"But then what else do we need to stop? Horseback riding, mounted police, breeding race horses?" she said.
(Writing by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Jan Harvey)