Animal rights campaigners have slammed the children’s craze of ‘pony painting parties’ in which youngsters use chalk-based materials to draw designs on the animals’ bodies.
From writing their own names or putting painted handprints on the animals, to covering them with hearts and stars, ponies and horses are used as a blank canvas for kids’ designs.
Campaigners are petitioning to get what they describe as the ‘disturbing trend’ banned while animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), said parents needed to be reminded that ponies and horses ‘aren’t party props’.
Sophie Tomlinson, from Altrincham, Greater Manchester, launched a petition on change.org, which has been signed by more than 22,000 people, but providers say the practice is harmless and leaves no lasting mark on the animals.
She wrote: ‘Pony painting parties are a disturbing trend popping up all over the UK. Imagine being tied up amidst shrieking laughter, unpredictable touching and having strangers smear your hair in paint. Would you trade places?
‘This is happening all over the country to horses right now and we need to take a stand. How would you feel about strangers smearing paint on your pet?’
Her petition followed a scathing Facebook post from fellow campaigner Joe Callister, who shared photos of one such party and said: ‘It teaches us to objectify and use.
‘It teaches us that if human animals are being made to feel happy, we can disregard the non-human animals. It’s disgusting, disrespectful and unjust.’
His post has since been shared hundreds of times and received almost 2,000 comments, with the majority in agreement.
Jacqui Martin said: ‘Strikes me kids should be taught the proper place for drawing is on paper not on beautiful animals – are parents so unable to provide stimulating and exciting play and entertainment these days.
‘Don’t know who is worse here parents for actually encouraging children to ‘paint a pony’ – or even think painting a pony is OK – or the owners of said ponies who allow their animals to be treated like this in order to make money.’
But not everyone sees the harm in the painting, with some pointing out that equine centres and vet schools sometimes paint ligaments and skeletons on horses to show students more about how their bodies move.
Katie Enos said: ‘As a horse owner its clear the horse is in no way shape or form in danger or being abused.
‘If the horse didn’t like it, it wouldn’t be stood so chilled and eating its haynet. It’s not bleach for god sake and easily washed off with a sponge.
‘For all you know the kids could be practicing the body parts of a horse, I did as a child. I also painted a skeleton onto my horse for Halloween.
‘There is much more to life then worrying about kids playing with ponies.’
Georgia Coghlan said such a large animal would ‘easily get away from something he doesn’t like’, while Madison Lewis said campaigners should focus their efforts on ‘actual animal abuse going on’.
Helen Preece runs Stockport-based My Happy Equine, which supplies the paint for pony party companies.
She is well used to facing criticism, even receiving death threats in the past, but insists the paint is perfectly safe and the ponies come to no harm.
Ms Preece said: ‘There are a lot of companies that do it and there’s no harm tothe animal.
‘We don’t just provide paints for the parties, a lot is for places offering therapy at rising centres for the disabled and it has a massive benefit.
‘The paint is applied with a brush so it’s exactly the same as grooming a horse. It doesn’t go near their nose, mouth or eyes.
‘It’s all chalk-based and perfectly safe and washes out with warm water. It’s not like the horses are being dyed forever.’
Ms Preece added: ‘I know some people are against it because I get a lot of negative messages but I would have no issue with any of these people coming along to see how we do it.’
Elisa Allen, director of animal rights group PETA UK, said parents should not allow their kids to treat animals like colouring books.
Ms Allen said: ‘The first lesson a child should be taught is the golden rule – to treat others as you would wish to be treated.
‘So if children wouldn’t like to be forced to stand still while someone painted and drew all over their bodies, it’s wrong to subject ponies to the same treatment.
‘Allowing kids to treat animals like colouring books is a lesson in insensitivity to which no thoughtful parents would expose their children.
‘Ponies and horses aren’t party props – they’re intelligent, complex animals who should be appreciated for their natural beauty.
‘Animal exploitation has no place at a children’s party, and PETA urges parents to opt instead for cruelty-free activities – like finger painting or face painting.’
One of the pony party companies mentioned in the petition is Buckinghamshire-based Diddy Pony Parties.
A spokesman said: ‘Diddy Pony Parties is aware of the petition. The petitioner has never made contact with DPP and has never experienced what we do.
‘DPP places pony welfare as its highest priority and all activities are supervised by knowledgable and caring equine professionals.
‘All materials used in our parties are certified safe for use on animals and specifically equines. The matter is now in the hands of our legal advisers.’