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Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Nariyah Malone, 2, rides atop Clara, the new pony at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, as her father, Elijah Malone, guides them down the walkway in the pony ride area Thursday.

Zoo’s new pony ready to fill big horseshoes left by Cookie

Spring is a time of beginnings, and no one knows that better than Clara.

The Shetland pony is in her inaugural season at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo. The 8-year-old has some big hoofs to fill as she replaces Cookie, the popular pony who died in late November at age 38.

“Cookie was special and had a lot of fans,” Cheryl Piropato, the zoo’s education and communications director, said Thursday. “There are adults who rode her as kids who brought their children in to ride her. There was just this connection.”

Cookie was part of a crew of ponies owned by the Hooley family.

Now, it’s Clara’s turn.

“She’s still learning the hierarchy among the older ponies,” Piropato said. “Clara is finding where she fits in.”

This weekend’s forecast calls for temps in the 70s and some sunshine, so Clara might be busy.

“Being a zoo, we’re dependent on the weather, so we might have a lot of folks out, especially with it being Mother’s Day on Sunday.”

The zoo is planning an event that day for MOM – “Missing Orangutan Mothers.” Visitors can learn about the campaign from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Last year, about 550,000 people visited the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, marking the second-highest attendance since the facility opened in 1965.

Clara will do her part to keep the kids coming back.

“We haven’t had any wrecks with her, so that’s always a good thing,” joked Byron Hooley, whose family has operated the zoo’s pony rides for nearly 40 years. “She pretty well knows what to do.”

With a white mane and matching tail, the tan-colored pony was bought in Berne.

“I saw her with a family there and thought that’s the kind of pony I need for the zoo,” Hooley said.

For years, thousands of children climbed aboard Cookie, who worked at the zoo for 22 years.

When news of the pony’s death broke, dozens of Facebook and Twitter followers logged on to offer their condolences.

“She was really loved,” Piropato said. “We posted a message on our blog Wednesday to let people know about Clara.”