COSTA MESA — Tanager Park turned into a place for children to ride ponies, pet freshly sheared sheep and gather as many Tootsie Rolls and Starburst as possible Saturday morning, as Torelli Realty hosted its 25th annual Egg-Citement event.
This year, Torelli arranged for a 9-year-old llama named Cuzco to join rabbits, turtles, goats and sheep in the petting zoo.
Nadia Nessim works on the El Monte farm where Cuzco lives. Nessim said Cuzco was going to be slaughtered, but Ann Ammons purchased him for $190. Ammons founded the company Ponies For Parties and brought six of the animals to the park Saturday.
Cuzco was chomping grass while his soft, long white fir wisped in the morning breeze.
Ammons helped hoist and strap children onto one of six ponies. Most of the ponies are more than 20 years old and are raised on the same El Monte farm as Cuzco.
"If you take good care of them, they can go into their 30s," Ammons said. Customers rent ponies for birthday parties and for stunts, such as a "horse walking into your boss's office," Ammons said.
Barbara Sandlin has lived in Costa Mesa since 1980 and attended last year's Egg-Citement event. She watched as her 3 1/2-year old son Jackson rode one of the ponies.
"He loves ponies," Sandlin said. "It's all about the kids having fun."
Sandlin said Torelli also hosts a Halloween event and a snow day, where they truck in loads of the white stuff for kids to play in.
Casey Patterson, a Huntington Beach resident, heard about the event from a friend and was in the park with his wife and two children, Cash and Guy.
"Mom was telling the kids about the Easter egg hunt the last two weeks," Patterson said. "She set out empty eggs all over the backyard for a test run."
Valerie Torelli, who founded Torelli Realty, used to hold Egg-Citement at Adams Elementary School, but the space could not hold the number of attendees. Tanager Park proved just right.
Torelli walked with a megaphone announcing to parents the next age group to go on the egg and candy hunt. The age groups were staggered to avoid a rush.
All the attractions were free. Attendees could donate if they chose. Torelli said the event generated about $20,000 in its prior 24 years. Proceeds go to schools in Costa Mesa, such as Estancia High and Adams. Estancia cheerleaders were on-hand Saturday, as was a band from Adams.
Deanna Chaney watched her sixth-grade daughter, Deaniella Black, play the violin alongside classmates.
Torelli had 1,000 pounds of candy and 500 Easter eggs on hand in preparation for the crowd.
People waited in line for the staggered candy hunt and a steady line of eager children and their parents waited to ride the ponies.
The purpose of Saturday's event was bringing the community together regardless of background or affiliations, Torelli said.
"Community involvement is color blind," Torelli said.