Arrow-right Camera
News >  Features >  Washington Voices

‘Pony magic’ arrives at Riverfront

Owners of pony riding operation add excitement to downtown

The newest attraction at Riverfront Park provides modern city kids a taste of old-fashioned country fun. Now, in addition to riding the painted ponies on the Looff Carrousel, children have an opportunity to ride the real deal.

On April 23, Story Book Farm Ponies began offering pony rides, just across the river from the Carrousel.

The sweet Shetlands have proven to be a hit. On a recent Saturday morning, a steady stream of kids gathered under the rainbow-striped awning.

Three-year-old McKenna Ewing ran to the corral and climbed up the gate. “Oh! Look at them!” she gasped. “Their hair are crazy!”

She and her brother, Hayden, 4, were spending the day at the park with their dad, Reggie Ewing. He thought pony rides might be a fun change of pace and his kids agreed.

As the ponies began their sedate walk, Hayden flashed a dimpled grin at his dad. “I was scared awhile,” he confided. But when their turn was over, he hollered, “I want to do it again!”

Story Book Farm Pony Rides is owned by Susan Rae, who also operates Ride the West Horse and Ranch Expo. Rae met the original Story Book Farm owner, Maureen “Mo” Gunderson, several years ago when she wanted to add pony rides to the Expo.

Gunderson died of bone cancer in 2006. When Gunderson knew she’s was losing her fight, she called Rae from the hospital. “She said, ‘I’m circling the drain, Susan, and I want to talk to you about my ponies,’ ” Rae recalled.

Gunderson asked Rae and her husband Rick Perrenoud to care for her beloved Shetlands. “We didn’t think twice – we said we’d take them,” said Rae. “Mo had a magic about her.”

That magic rubbed off on her ponies. Rae said they’ve been around people since birth and six of them are certified therapy ponies.

McKenna Ewing testified to their sweet disposition. “They didn’t bite me!” she said. While her dad held her pink fur-trimmed purse, she eagerly saddled up for another ride.

McKenna may have longed for a brush to run through her mount’s “crazy hair,” but she settled for softly stroking its mane.

When it was time to dismount, McKenna cradled the pony’s face in her hands and kissed it soundly on the nose.

Rae said, “It’s like working at Disneyland, only here in Spokane.”

Indeed, you could almost hear the strains of “It’s a Small World After All” as a little girl visiting from Denmark took a ride, followed by two siblings from Japan.

Currently, pony rides are offered on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Riverfront Park assistant manager Debbie Dodson said the ponies attract a lot of attention. “It’s been a great addition to the park. It’s been perfect,” she said. “I think the parents enjoy it as much as the kids.”

Though the ride costs $6, kids can pet the resting ponies near the little red barn for free. “It helps when the kids have a meltdown,” Rae said.

Evidently, it’s difficult for some children to say goodbye. Rae calls the interaction and bonding between animals and kids, “pony magic.” The therapy ponies are especially gentle and immediately tune in to disabled kids – even if the disability isn’t readily apparent.

“It’s bigger than just pony rides in the park,” she said. “Everybody cries here at least once a weekend.”

Rae’s voice grew husky with emotion. “I’m sure Mo is smiling down on us and just clapping. She had such vision.”