SPRING HILL — Three-year-old Lilianna Klink was delighted with the response she got recently from petting the silky chest of a pony called Kellie outside Scribbles Preschool.
"She kissed me," Lilianna said shyly.
But when it came to sitting 40 inches above the ground aboard the docile, tan and white pony, Lilianna grimaced.
"It's a little high up," she said.
The pony, along with a bounce house and a cotton candy maker, came from Cowboy's Party Rentals, a new events business in Hernando County.
Owners Bryan and Deborah Hess launched the endeavor from their 5-acre property in Ridge Manor, where three kid-friendly ponies reside during off-work hours in pampered care.
Franki Pursino, 3, held a handful of Kellie's blond mane, saying with some surprise, "It feels soft."
"She was just brushed this morning," Deborah Hess said, adding that the pony had also been bathed only a few days earlier.
The ponies are the star attraction for party rentals. They give children an opportunity for contact with a large — but not too large — animal and the experience of an age-old mode of transportation.
The Hesses, both 52, accompany the ponies to home parties, festivals and other celebratory events, giving halter-led rides.
The Hess ponies are about 40 inches tall at the shoulders, not much taller than some big dogs, Deborah Hess noted.
And each of the ponies has a history of being raised with children. "So when we pick out our ponies, we make sure they are kid-friendly," she said.
Party rentals include a choice from among 10 bounce houses and concession machines that make snow cones, cotton candy or popcorn.
Bryan Hess, who operated similar party rentals in his native Indiana before moving to Hernando County in October, said he has even provided bounce houses for adult parties. It makes grownups feel like kids again, he said.
The party at Scribbles Preschool on Mariner Boulevard was sponsored by Dr. Gogi Ramappa & Associates, pediatricians with offices in Spring Hill and Hudson since the early 1980s. The Hesses' business has been hired to stage parties at several other area preschools, too.
Of the couple's party endeavor, Bryan Hess said, "Everybody is happy to see you when you show up."
Deborah Hess concurred, saying, "It's nice to go to work. Everybody's happy. Nobody's grumpy."
On the business side, Deborah Hess said, "We are prompt. We include delivery, setup and takedown. We give a flat rate."
Rental of a bounce house averages $100. A pony can be hired for $100 for the first hour and $50 for each succeeding hour and for each hour with an additional pony.
In November, Cowboy's Party Rentals supplied the goods for the Big Heroes for Little Warriors event in Land O'Lakes. And the business is booked for a fundraiser in February at J.D. Floyd Elementary School in Spring Hill.
Deborah Hess added, "We're planning on renting out games in the future."