As you know, one of my favorite spots to walk is lovely Elizabeth Park and my last foray to this venue was December 28th, which was also the subject of my last post “Birdie Nirvana”. Not only is Elizabeth Park a treasure trove of birds, squirrels and waterfowl, but it has the distinction of being the oldest park in the Wayne County park system. Last year Elizabeth Park celebrated its 100th anniversary, having been established in 1919, after its former owner’s estate dedicated this island park to the County. The owner’s children requested this 162-acre venue be named Elizabeth Park, in honor of their mother, whose first name was Elizabeth.
I went on many treks around Elizabeth Park during its centennial year and this particular walk took place on August 10th.
I had already gone through the entire park, plus the perimeter road, then along the boardwalk, before deciding, on a whim, to take a quick detour just for kicks. That day’s pictures have languished in my photo files, having just been given a cursory glance that evening, but the post has been bubbling around in my brain for months because I wanted to add a vintage touch to this trek.
A fun flashback – then and now.
I thought I’d spotlight the Children’s Pony Ranch that is an integral part of Elizabeth Park. Whenever I walk or drive past it, there is always a crowd during the warm-weather months.
In 2019, the Pony Ranch also marked a monumental anniversary, its 60th year in business, so I thought it was high time I stepped off the perimeter road and paid it a visit since I, just like many other generations of local kids, similarly enjoyed a pony ride or two back in the day. In the 60s I went with my parents when we first moved here and were out for a Sunday drive and stumbled upon the ranch while circling this island park. But I also visited with our troop of “Pioneer Girls” (an organization for girls of all ages, similar to Campfire Girls, Brownies or Girl Scouts). I remember an enjoyable day-long excursion where our troop members walked, played, picnicked and topped off the visit at the Pony Ranch.
So, first I climbed up the hill from the boardwalk …
… and then I got set to step back in time.
As an adult revisiting this fun place on a sultry hot Summer day, I soon realized things had not changed much at the Children’s Pony Ranch in the half century (OMG) since I last visited. The little booth where you paid for your ride and bought critter treats, the stable area and the hitching post all looked the same to me, most likely the original items that were there when I was just a kid.
The staff of young men and women was friendly and I arrived early enough, before their noon opening time, to chit chat as I watched them saddling up the ponies and horses. As to pests, it isn’t only ants that bother you on a park outing or picnic – the ponies and horses stomped their feet or swished their tails to fend off the relentless horseflies that were biting like crazy that day. I will tell you that I came home with many bites as I was wearing shorts and a sleeveless shirt due to the hot and humid day.
I watched those youngsters pick their ponies, then climb aboard their mounts, as their parents scrambled to capture the moment with their phones or cameras, then they were escorted down the path and through a portion of Elizabeth Park, their handler gently guiding the ponies by their bridles down the dirt path and into the woods. I asked one family if I could take a few pictures of their kids enjoying the experience and they said “sure – no problem” so I stood there alongside those parents and happily snapped away.
As I watched the joy in their faces, I remembered all my fun times on ponies or “horsies” back in the day. I sure was a wee tyke in the vintage shot at the top of this post; my mom is waiting in the car in the background, while I had the first of many horseback rides. When I was a teen I used to go horseback riding all the time in a stable called “Boots and Saddle” near Amherstburg, Ontario as well as riding stables in Northern Michigan. Here are a couple more old pictures: the first was courtesy of the guy who brought a pony and camera to the ‘hood and the second was taken in a tourist spot along Route 66 in Oklahoma (and yes, it was a stuffed bronco that your roving reporter was riding).
Kids will be kids …
With all the ponies saddled up and out on the trail, it was time to visit the petting zoo adjacent to the stable area. One young staffer was in charge of herding the animals from the farm, along the path, then into a pen which served as the petting zoo. The goats were a handful and were walked in separately.
The petting zoo consisted of an alpaca (who munched grass and didn’t spit on its handler or any visitors), a couple of goats (that thankfully did not scream, but were content to glare at us and quietly chew their cuds), plus an adorable pair of donkeys known as “Amos” and “Andy” who won me over when they each poked their snouts through the fence while I was taking pictures of them. You can buy a cone of treats to feed the Ranch critters if you’re so inclined. I didn’t do so, not because I’m cheap, but I didn’t want sticky fingers while using the camera. Perhaps this accounted for their continued expectant, or maybe wistful, looks (just like the squirrels wear) as if to say: “are you going to give us treats if you take pictures of us?” I came home with at least 30 pictures of these two donkeys … hey, they were cute, what can I say?
After their folks paid for their rides, then while waiting for the first load of kids to return from their trip, the children meandered over to the petting farm where they amused themselves by poking their fingers through the enclosure to pet the donkeys.
We often say that kids today are not the same as we used to be … yes, I say that too, but apparently this little donkey intrigued me, circa 1962, at the same venue where I rode the buckin’ bronco.
In another pasture I was feeding a billy goat. (Great shot of both animals, but my father almost cut me out of the picture both times.)
The kids here at the Children’s Pony Ranch could not get the nanny goats or alpaca to come to the fence to be petted or fed because they were content to stay put in the heat of the mid-day sun and forego nibbles from the cone of critter treats – go figure.
This was a fun foray and a chance to time travel a bit too. I’ll leave you with this quote after a very long post that really reached back in time:
If you carry your childhood with you, you never become older. ~Tom Stoppard