Nature isn’t all hiking trails and camping trips. Sometimes it’s a friendly horse that needs to be groomed. Or a penguin chick that is part of a
50-year-old conservation program.
When your kids want to get outdoors this summer but aren’t looking for a woodland excursion, try one or two of these animal-themed activities in our area.
Fun fact: Horseland is one of the most visited exhibits at the Maryland State Fair. It introduces fairgoers to all things horse related, from riding and grooming to jockey attire and even equine dentistry. Last year, 56,000 people stopped by Horseland.
The exhibit is so popular, in fact, the Maryland Horse Industry Board decided the state’s equine enthusiasts needed another destination to visit; three years ago, the board created what are now called Horse Discovery Centers.
Currently, there is a network of 38 of these centers across the state to welcome newcomers who want to try a riding lesson or to simply see or pet a horse.
Each stable is an existing and licensed business whose owners completed another level of certification to participate in the state program. They won’t pressure visitors into buying expensive lessons but can make recommendations to those who want to find a place to learn, says Ross Peddicord, the board’s executive director.
“We needed places where we could send the general public (and where) they would be taken care of by friendly, welcoming and knowledgeable staff,” Peddicord says.
Not surprisingly, Horse Discovery Centers are beginning to have the draw of Horseland.
How could they not? “It’s riding. You’re outdoors and away from your cellphones,” Peddicord says.
To read more about the program and the centers, visit mda.maryland.gov/horseboard.
This year, The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore welcomed its 1,000th African penguin chick. Millie, the new arrival, is adorable, and her presence here is also a big plus for the zoo’s conservation efforts.
African penguins are endangered. But more than 50 years ago, The Maryland Zoo decided to start a penguin colony and hatched its first chick in 1969.
Today, the colony is the largest in North America, and penguins previously bred here have moved to zoos and aquariums in 35 states and six countries.
Millie is now old enough and big enough to join the rest of the penguins at the zoo’s Penguin Coast. She and the 1,001th chick, Hollie, completed swimming lessons in May to prepare for this big step, says Jane Ballentine, the zoo’s senior director of development and communications.
To find out more about Millie and family, visit marylandzoo.org.
The Irvine Nature Center welcomed a new animal ambassador this spring, a 4-year-old female bearded dragon, whom visitors can see and touch.
“She’s definitely our most chill ambassador, and she doesn’t mind gentle touches or being held,” Meg Murray, Irvine’s communications manager, says. “Kids are encouraged to gently feel her rough and spiky skin.”
Murray adds that the center’s laid-back lizard also loves to be up high and sit on shoulders — sometimes she even hangs out on Murray’s shoulder while she works.
Check out Irvine’s hours at explorenature.org.
One More Place …
The National Aquarium, of course! The aquarium has plenty of both animal and conservation-themed activities for your green adventurer. Visit aqua.org for a list of summer programs.