Pony painting parties: is it really OK to let kids daub paint on live animals?

Pony painting parties: is it really OK to let kids daub paint on live animals?

You could think of it as a cross between colouring in and playing dressing-up. Pony-painting parties – where children are allowed to daub handprints over a docile pony, or decorate or colour its mane and hooves – have been highlighted this week.

Sophie Tomlinson, a jewellery designer from Manchester, set up a petition to ban the practice last week and more than 60,000 people have signed it. “I realised it was a growing trend,” says Tomlinson.

“It was to raise public awareness. We’re specifically against pony parties offering this new part of their package, which essentially teaches children it’s OK to paint on animals, draw your name on the horses, for entertainment value. We think it’s an irresponsible message.”

One stable owner and party organiser says they understood the concerns.

“I’m sure there are people executing this in a less controlled way, but that isn’t us, or the majority of the professional centres.”

They offer children the chance to do non-toxic finger painting on their ponies – which they liken to “grooming and cuddling” – for five minutes at the end of an educational experience.

“I am constantly monitoring [the pony’s] behaviour to make sure she is not distressed. Only two children are around her at one time.”

The view from experts is mixed.

“While painting any animal is not to everyone’s taste, we do not feel there is a welfare issue, provided the ponies involved are not showing any signs of distress and the paint used is non-toxic,”

says Tony Tyler, deputy chief executive of the charity World Horse Welfare.

“Many horses and ponies greatly enjoy human interaction and attention. If a pony was not of a suitable temperament, then it should not be used for this role.”

Lucy Grieve, the chair of the ethics and welfare committee of the British Equine Veterinary Association, says

“vets and physios paint horses with chalk in order to demonstrate anatomical features; we use it as a teaching tool. As long as the paints don’t cause any harm to the animal, there doesn’t seem to be any cause for concern. What is more important is making sure they are well looked-after otherwise – they are fed and watered and get rest periods without children being around them the whole time.”

But while pony parties

“can be a fun way for children to learn about ponies and understand that regular grooming is an important part of pony care,”

according to Gemma Stanford, the director of welfare at the British Horse Society,

“we would not encourage the excessive use of paint for pure entertainment purposes.”

Perhaps it’s best to put down the glitter pot.