- Associated Press - Friday, June 6, 2014

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - Lily Callahan’s voice, barely more than a whisper, forced the words through tears.

“Just never give up hope.”

Her 13-year-old American Saddlebred, Bob, a year older than Lily, a seventh grader at Harrisburg Middle School, had just received a hands-on blessing on a recent Saturday morning from the Rev. H. Knute Jacobson, rector of Calvary Episcopal Church.

Bob has battled a rare disease - doctors think it is equine protozoal myeloencephalitis, or EPM - for two years.

Not surprisingly then, Lily was even more emotional the night before after riding Bob to fifth place in the Saddlebred country pleasure class among nine other Saddlebreds at the Calvary Episcopal Charity Horse Show at the Central Missouri Events Center.

“It’s been a long haul,” Lily’s mom, Judy, said with tears welling in her eyes. “He’s not just a horse to us. He’s our family.”

“Just like a human,” Lily said, still blinking away tears. “Your best friend in the whole world. You just know he’s always going to be by your side.”

The Blessing of the Animals has become a mainstay of traditions for the “Church Show,” now in its 21st year. The three-day event ended alongside an equestrian education fair coordinated by Katie Coup, owner and instructor at LionHeart Riding Academy in southern Boone County.

The fair included local horse clubs, displays and booths featuring the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, Farm Bureau, specific horse breed organizations, 4-H, and a display by the Boone County stormwater education team about proper disposal of horse manure.

LionHeart also had its annual Cookies for Kids’ Cancer bake sale on site.

Representatives of the three not-for-profit benefactors of the show - Boone County Council on Aging, the Family Health Center’s dental clinic, and Heifer International - also were on hand during the three-day event.

The show has raised more than $250,000 for a long list of organizations during the previous 20 years.

The final day of this year’s show got started with the blessing ceremony that included two dogs and seven horses.

Jacobson and associate pastor Cathy Rosenholtz led the service taken from a liturgy for St. Francis Day that included a short homily by St. Francis of Assisi, “Sermon to the Birds,” delivered nearly 800 years ago in 1220.

“We’re here because we believe it works,” Judy Callahan said about bringing Bob, whose registered name is Commander’s Debut. “He needs to be blessed. He needs all the help he can get.”

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