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Published: Wednesday, 7/24/2002

Program at Walbridge park makes horse sense

BY MARIA SPROW
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Melissa Merrow isn't too certain of Bugsy during a Loop Park program. Melissa Merrow isn't too certain of Bugsy during a Loop Park program.
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When three officers from the Toledo Police Department's Mounted Patrol unit visited Loop Park in Walbridge last week, they weren't out to arrest the bad guys, chase down a stolen vehicle, or control a major event crowd.

They may have had their guns and handcuffs in tow, but they didn't plan on using them on the crowd of 5 to 10-year-olds gathered at the park for the community's supervised summer playground program - except, of course, for show-and-tell.

Five of the units' members, including officers Abe Diaz, Bob Holland, and Dave O'Brien, as well as two of their partners, Bugsy and Blue, gave the children a lesson on horses and the mounted patrol.

The class is one of several that has been taught to the 30 children who are participating in the program, new to the village this year.

Elementary school teachers and workers with previous experience running summer camp programs supervise the children, who can come to the park Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. to participate in the group activities, which include movies, story hour, board games, crafts, lunch, and outdoor play time.

The program, free to children of Walbridge residents, was formed because several community leaders, including council president Jerry Eversman, wanted to give area children something constructive to do during the "lazy days of summer." The special weekly guest speakers are an important part of what is considered a successful beginning.

"The only unfortunate part of the program has been the plus-90 degree heat and the high humidity. It has caused some children to stay at home in the air conditioning or spend more time at the village swimming pool, and it eliminated some of the outdoor games that we can do," Mr. Eversman said.

"We've had tremendous positive feedback from some of the parents of the children, and also, just seeing the children participate, it's just been a positive thing for the village," he added.

The horses and officers are not the only guests to have graced the park recently. This month, the children have had the chance to pet Leo the lion cub, see a member of the Bowling Green Police Department's narcotics detection K-9 division at work, and learn the art of balloon folding from a professional clown.

They liked the horses, even after their hands became covered in slobber when feeding them apples.

"Blue, he's pretty cool. He's got blue eyes, and blue is my favorite color," said Jangus Whitner, 9.

The children learned about the speed and skills of a horse and how the horses are used as a tool to help catch criminals.

"Our horses have never lost to anybody in a foot race," Officer O'Brien told the children, adding that, while the horses will do almost anything their riders ask of them, there are some limitations.

While they talked about everything from horse teeth to training and trusting their selected partners, Moe stood watch in the horse trailer-esque squad car, ready for action.

Fortunately, the only action he got to see at the park was from the roughly 15 youths, who, after learning about the horses' hooves and backgrounds, swarmed around the trailer, some climbing on it to reach the window and pat the former race horse turned police horse.



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