A ZEBRA, an Indian pony and a racehorse circled the ring at the Carroll County Agricultural Center in Westminster on Tuesday evening and again Wednesday evening.
Children laughed with glee as several ponies passed by. One was dressed as a bumblebee, another a peacock, and still another, a ballerina.
To the children it didn't matter that the makeup and black stripes had been meticulously painted on their favorite equines.
For tonight, that horse really was a zebra.
The costumed ponies, riders and workers were all part of the Halloween party for the 4-H Therapeutic Riding Program of Carroll County.
Participants played Halloween games, such as the relay race "Pumpkin on a Spoon."
"Actually, the pumpkins were small gourds," instructor Caroline Babylon said.
In the game "Spider on the Head," participants had to sit tall to balance a plastic spider on their heads as they weaved through cones aboard a horse or pony.
"Ghoul in the Bucket" required students to drop a plastic batspider or glowing red ghoul into a bucket as they passed by on horseback.
In the popular "Pass the Brain," a football-sized icky rubber "brain" was passed from rider to rider in a race against time.
Each year in the spring, and again in the fall, more than 100 volunteers gather twice a week for eight-week sessions at the Agricultural Center as part of a program that brings together 96 handicapped individuals and nine or more sturdy horses -- horses that, Carroll County Extension Agent Bob Shirley said, "must be bombproof."
In the program, those who can't walk are suddenly mobile. Those who can't see suddenly have horses to guide them where they want to go. Those who can't speak communicate with hand or leg signals and the horse responds willingly.
Here, the physically and mentally handicapped find they can participate fully in a world that doesn't always seem equal.
According to Mr. Shirley, "The program helps them improve their balance, coordination, muscle control, attention spans, confidence and self-esteem."
Under the watchful eye of head instructor Mary Shunk, students learn to ride for pleasure and therapy.
Volunteers walk the ponies, or work as side-walkers, walking beside some of the children to help them maintain their balance.
Mr. Shirley discussed his team of professional instructors with pride.
"Most of them have attended many multifaceted workshops on working with handicapped folks, and specifically with programs such as this one," he said.
Ms. Shunk has been around horses her whole life, working as a riding instructor for years.
Instructor Karen Scott, a former special education teacher, brings her knowledge of children and their needs to the program.
Ms. Babylon and Carrie Watrous (who works for the Governor's Office for Individuals with Disabilities) use their skills to find money for the program each year.
"The volunteers are the backbone of the program," Mr. Shirley said with pride. "I was just talking to a volunteer who went on and on about what working with this program means to him. He talked about how it has helped him get a handle on some problems in his own life.
"The cheerfulness and energy of the volunteers, seeing the obstacles some of our riders face daily, and being a part of a program that helps these individuals, has helped him in his own life," Mr. Shirley said.
Ms. Babylon says the program is restricted by the weather and amount of daylight because it is held outside.
"Our goal is to build an arena so that the program can run at least 10 months of the year," she said. "It's hard when a participant has just begun to get a handle on certain things and the session ends."
The Halloween party at the Agricultural Center ended the fall session of the 4-H Therapeutic Riding Program, but it will begin again in the spring -- a program of hope, a circle of sharing and giving, of making a difference in Carroll County.
Memorable fashion show
Experience the sights, sounds and tastes of Christmas while remembering Christmases past when the Shepherd's Staff presents its third annual benefit fashion show, "Fashions and Memories," at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 6 at Wilhelm Ltd. Caterers in Westminster.
This year, Leggett will provide seasonal fashions highlighting holiday styles.
The event will include Christmas caroling and musical memories performed by the Adeline Quartet, Mirror Image.
Foods with an old-fashioned flare will include gingerbread and home-baked cakes and cookies.
Christmas trees decorated by local youth groups, including Girl Scouts, West Middle School students and several other groups, will be featured.
Door prizes have been donated by local businesses.
All proceeds will benefit Shepherd's Staff, a ministry of area churches that helps the needy in Carroll County by providing free services, energy needs, nonfood items, clothing, meals and more.
Add to that the feeling of helping the needy by taking a nonfood essential, such as paper products, toiletries or detergents, to the fashion show.
These donated items will go to the Blessings Closet at Shepherd's Staff and, ultimately, to the needy. Shepherd's Staff is located at 30 Carroll St. in Westminster.
Tickets for "Fashions and Memories" may be purchased for $11 at the Treat Shop, Stu's Music, Ain't That A Frame, the Hickory Stick and the Shepherd's Staff office.
Tables of 10 may be reserved.
Tickets will also be available at the door.
Lois Syzmanski's Central Carroll neighborhood column appears each Monday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.