Maryland will celebrate its 250-year thoroughbred racing tradition with the second annual Maryland Million Horse Country Tour this weekend.
Four Carroll County farms are among the 21 stops in five counties where visitors can see what is involved in the making of champions.
"Most people know about the Preakness and Pimlico," said Cricket Goodall, assistant executive director of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association. "They don't know about the industry and how it produces thoroughbreds."
Ms. Goodall said owners are eager to open their barns and pastures to publicize the industry. Last year the event raised about $3,000 for the Maryland Council of Equine Therapies Inc., which coordinates statewide therapeutic riding and driving associations.
Shamrock Farms will show its "celebrity" stallions, including Aloma's Ruler, the 1982 Preakness winner, and D JJJ Ebony Gold, the best Morgan horse in the country, said Jim Steele, manager of the 640-acre farm in Woodbine.
"We will show our foals and stallions, and films of our champions performing," he said.
Miniature horses will be showing off, too. At Valhalla Farm at Finksburg, home to 19 miniature horses, visitors will tour the 21-stall barn and enjoy a hands-on visit with mares and new foals.
The miniatures -- they cannot be taller than 34 inches -- thrive on crowds of people eyeing and petting them, said owners Dan and Kathy Conahan.
"Our horses are delighted with the attention," said Mrs. Conahan. "Even the babies are people-oriented and intelligent."
The skittishness often associated with horses is not part of a miniature's nature, said Mrs. Conahan, who took Rosebud, a yearling, to Preakness activities.
"There were whooshing balloons, loud bands and kids all around her," she said. "Nothing bothered her."
After six years of breeding and selling the miniatures, Mrs. Conahan can attest to their assets.
"They make wonderful pets and companions," she said. "They are easy to handle and manage and are not as intimidating as larger horses."
The breed originally was used to haul coal from mines in England. It now numbers about 42,000 worldwide.
Halter and driving demonstrations will show how well the miniatures perform.
"Miniatures are willing to please and love to drive a cart," said Mrs. Conahan. "They can pull about two times their weight."
The Conahans, who both work as nurses at Carroll County General Hospital, said they have had much success on their farm, which they built about three years ago.
Valhalla will also be open to the public on Grandparents Day, Sept. 12, and again on Oct. 18.
"Although breeding and foaling are our priorities, we don't mind having crowds a few times a year," said Mrs. Conahan. "It helps us get information out and sell our horses."
Dedication Farm in Eldersburg and Derby Hill Farm in Mount Airy also are on the county tour stops, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Tickets, which are $15 for adults and $7.50 for children, are available through the Tourist Information Center in Westminster or at any tour stop. Maps and programs also are available. Information: 848-1388.