"Midget Horse! Alive, Not a Pony, only 31 inches high." The young girl taking tickets for this attraction at the Prince George's County Fair sat expressionless, letting a sign lure the curious to view the equine freak.

Inside: a small horse nibbling hay.

"He's 150 times bigger than I thought he'd be," carped one spectator who made the trek to Bowie last Sunday to gawk, eat and pay tribute to rural America.

It's fair season. This weekend the action moves to West Friendship, Maryland, for lamb trimming and horse pulling at the Howard County Fair; to Mount Airy for Berrywine Plantations' square dance and cook-out, and to far-flung Fairlea for the 57th annual West Virginia State Fair. Dotting the midways through September, there are fast-talking barkers, larger-than-life carny amusements, bluegrass music and fried foods that together summon images of Pat Boone in "State Fair," Judy Garland in St. Louis and P.T. Barnum in big tops everywhere.

One barker guessed a woman's weight within half a pound, pocketing her dollar. The ring-toss prizes, too, remained securely on their shelves, a horde of stuffed pandas and teddys. Inside Bowie's racetrack, concession stands hawked rawhide dog bones, pushed cable TV and promoted the Army, while outdoors sticky cotton candy held its own against onion-covered Polish sausages.

And animals. Against a backdrop of 325 squawking chickens and roosters, David Moore of Elkton spat a ribbon of tobacco juice in the direction of the Tilt-a-Whirl. One hundred and four of the loudmouth birds were his, next to the sleepy rabbits, snobby goats and some incredible pigs. But the "Most Beautiful Bird in Show" award went to Dorothy Payne's golden Sebright Bantam, a tailored number with intricate feather patterns.

Over in the petting zoo, three little pigs, still cute, drew raves. In six months, the sign indicated, each will be about 250 pounds and not so cuddly. "People who don't know anything about livestock tend to like to see them when they're small," said volunteer Karol Westelinck, 4-H program coordinator from the University of Maryland. "Small animals are much less threatening." Watching the baby chicks and a heifer named Bliss far from the fried-chicken and burger vans, Westelinck observed that "whether we like it or not, everything is still tied to agriculture."

Not all the coming festivals have a down-on-the-farm flavor. The Baltimore City Fair, September 18 through 20, stresses ethnic foods and urban renewal; Columbia's Renaissance Festival, for six weekends starting September 5, creates a 16th-century time warp for royal revelers. In Crisfield and on the Maine Avenue waterfront the spotlight's on seafood.

A roundup for fair fans: MARYLAND AUGUST 21-22. Howard County Fair. West Friendship. Friday: 7:30 p.m., parade of floats. Browningsville Band concert, 8:30 and 9:30. Dixie Gentlemen, 8, 10, 11 p.m. Saturday: dairy and livestock judging; horse show 9 a.m. baby contest, 4-H dog show, lamb trimming and showing, horse pulling, antique car parade, Johnson Mountain Boys 9, 10, 11 p.m. $1.50, under 12 free. From Beltway, U.S. 29 past Columbia to U.S. 40 west to exit 78 (Route 32), south one-half mile to Route 144. Turn right to fairgrounds. 301/442-1022. AUGUST 22-23. Berrywine Plantations Winery Square Dance and Cook-Out. Bring picnic; winery tours $1.60, under 18 free. 5 p.m. 13601 Glisans Mill Road, Mount Airy. 301/662-8687. AUGUST 24-29. Montgomery County Fair. Dairy goats, swan, sheep, steer sale; 7-11. Adults $3; children 10-15, $1; parking $1. Arts and crafts, food, tractor pulling contest, horse pulling contest. Montgomery Village exit, off I-270 in Gaithersburg. 301/926-3100. AUGUST 28-29. Hard Crab Derby, continued. Crowning of Little Mr. and Miss Crustacean at Crisfield High School, 7:30. Crabber's Ball at Crisfield Elks Lodge, Saturday, 9:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m. AUGUST 29. 114th Annual Calvert County Jousting Tournament, Port Republic. Bazzar at 1, jousting at 1:30. Admission 50 cents; supper, 3-6, $6 adults, $3 under 12. Restored one-room schoolhouse and colonial church. Beltway exit 11A to Route 4 east, right on 264 (Broome Island Road) half a mile to Christ Church. 301/586-1388 or 586-0044. AUGUST 29-SEPTEMBER 7. Maryland State Fair, 100th anniversary. Timonium. Livestock judging, daily and nightly entertainment, midway games and rides, one-ring big top circus. Thoroughbred races daily except Sunday. $2 adults, children under 12 free. I-95 north to the Baltimore Beltway toward Towson, exit 24 to Timonium Road (exit 16A), follow signs to fairgrounds. 301/252-0200. SEPTEMBER 4-6. 34th Annual National Hard Crab Derby and Fishing Fair. Crab-cooking contest, street parade, crab-picking contest, 22nd Annual Governor's Cup Race, 3 p.m. Saturday (crab racing) and 34th Annual National Hard Crab Derby, 3:30. Sunday, musical variety show, fishing fair, prizes. U.S. Army Drill Team, Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, Commander-in-Chief's Guard. SEPTEMBER 5-7, 12-13, 19-20, 26-27; OCTOBER 3-4, 10-11. Maryland Renaissance Festival, adjacent to Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia. 16th-century theme park featuring puppetry, face-painting, juggling school, fencing, fight the knight, archery, pony rides, king of the log. Royal court and period characters roaming the village streets, continuous stage entertainment. Adults $6.25 ($4.75 if purchased before August 31) children 5-12, $2 ($1.50 before August 31.) Senior citizens $5.25. Children under 12 admitted free on Labor Day weekend. Tickets available at gate or through Ticketron. In Washington, 596- 4673; in Baltimore, 685-1445. SEPTEMBER 5-6. Annual Solomon's Arts and Crafts Fair, Solomon's. Crafts, seafood booth, bake sales. Free. Cruise boat tours, $3 an hour for adults, $2 children under 12. Route 4 south. 301/326-3848 evenings. SEPTEMBER 6. Labor Day Celebration and Antique Truck Fair, Baltimore Museum of Industry. Noon to five. Preview of new museum: $1 adults, children under 12, 50 cents, under 6 free. 1415 Key Hwy. 301/727-4808. SEPTEMBER 10-13. Wicomico County Farm and Home Show. Salisbury Youth and Civic Center, Glen Avenue. Farm equipment, livestock competition, canned and baked goods, handwork, home demonstrations. Admission. 301/742-3201. SEPTEMBER 11-13. Maryland Seafood Festival. Sandy Point State Park, on the Bay near Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Two exhibit tents, seafood vendors, continuous musical entertainment, children's magic shows. 301/757-1841. SEPTEMBER 12-13. 14th Annual Revolutionary War Days, Smallwood State Park, Rison. Noon-5. 60 craftsmen, period costume, musket firing, seafood. Parking fee $2. Exit 3A off the Capital Beltway to Route 210 south, then 19 miles to Route 225. Left on 225 for a mile, right on 224 for six miles to park. 301/843-8363. SEPTEMBER 12-13. Septemberfest, Jefferson Community Center, Jefferson. 9-6. Free. Horseshoe pitching, antique tractor pull, cross-cut saw contest, flea markets, steam engine rides, corn-husking, pet show, food. 301/473-8442. SEPTEMBER 16-21. Anne Arundel County Fair. Sandy Point State Park. 301/757-3311. SEPTEMBER 17-20. Charles County Fair. La Plata. Children's day Friday. Carnival, talent show, horse pulling, baby show; livestock auction 2 p.m. Saturday. Continuous musical entertainment. $2, under 12 free. 9-9 Friday and Saturday, 10-6 Sunday. 301/934-9240. SEPTEMBER 18-20. Harvest Moon Bluegrass Weekend. Nine bands and cloggers, including Johnson Mountain Boys, Del McCoury and the Dixie Pals, Bob Paisley and t village, arts and crafts, maritime crafts, children's activities. Continuous entertainment: pop/country/ethnic music. Bolshoi Ballet gold medalist Amanda McKerrow will perform with Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Sunday at 8. Midway and amusement rides, 40 food vendors. Fireworks display Sunday night. Tickets $1.25. Noon-10 Friday; 10-10 Saturday, noon-10 Sunday. 301/547- 0015. SEPTEMBER 22-26. Great Frederick Fair. Frederick Fairgrounds, East Patrick Street. $2 per person, under 10 free. $1.50 per car. Farm machinery, animals, harness racing, demolition derby, grandstand entertainment including Brenda Lee, Charlie Pride, the Statler Brothers and the Hell Drivers. 301/663-5895. SEPTEMBER 24-27. St. Mary's County Fair. Two miles south of Leonardtown. 4-H Livestock judging and sale by area children, pony pulls, parade Saturday and jousting tournament at 1, carnival. $1.75, $1 children 6-16. 301/475-9388 evenings. SEPTEMBER 30-OCTOBER 4. Calvert County Fair. Prince Frederick. Agricultural, farm equipment and products, arts and crafts, livestock and poultry judging, baby contest. 301/535-0580. OCTOBER 8-11. Garret County Autumn Glory Festival, Oakland (31/2 hours from D.C.). Banjo and fiddle contests, crafts, Oktoberfest, some free events. 301/334-3888. VIRGINIA AUGUST 21-22. Prince William County Fair, Manassas. Rides, livestock exhibits, mini-barn, grandstand entertainment. Ages 5 to 59 admission $4.50; 60 and over $3.50, under 5 free. 10 a.m. to midnight, rides open at 2. I-66 to Route 234, Manassas south exit, follow signs to fairgrounds. 703/368-0173. AUGUST 21-23. Arlington County Fair, Thomas Jefferson Community Center. Clowns, rides, dolls, needlework, entertainment. Community Day, Saturday 3-7 with ReMax Suburbia's Hot Air Balloon, merry- go-round, pony, train, rollerskating, miniature golf. Free. Friday, 1-9; Saturday, 10-9, Sunday, noon-6. U.S. 50 or I-395 to Glebe Road to South Second Street. 558-2081 or 558-6595. AUGUST 29. Middleburg Wine Festival. Tour of Northern Virginia vineyards and lunch, $10. Box 172, Vinfera Vineyard, The Plains. AUGUST 29-30. Lucketts Country Fair. Lucketts. 10-5. Hog and beef farm tours, antique tool exhibit, farmyard zoo, cakewalk, square dancing, bluegrass music. Barbecue, homemade baked goods, butter- churning, soap-making, hand-churned ice cream. Route 7 to Route 15 north, six miles north of Leesburg. Adults 50 cents, 25 cents for bus tours and hayrides. 703/777-9750 or 777-4438. AUGUST 30-SEPTEMBER 5. Shenandoah County Fair. Woodstock. Take I-66 to I-81 south, exit at Woodstock and follow signs. Horse and pony show, fiddle, banjo contests, tractor pull, livestock judging, demolition derby, harness racing, grandstand musical entertainment. Weekends $2, children 8-12, $1.50. SEPTEMBER 3-7. Southwest Virginia Bluegrass and Country Music Festival. U.S. 19 between Lebanon and Tazewell. Featuring Alabama, Tammy Wynette, Moe Bandy, Seldom Scene, Lewis Family and others. $45 for five-day pass. music 1 to midnight. Crafts, dance and "lots of food, all the way from hamburger to lamb." SEPTEMBER 11-13. International Festival '81. Live entertainment and authentic foods at the Richmond Coliseum. H.R. Hutchinson Boys' Club, 804/353-4389. SEPTEMBER 12-13. Historic Dumfries Virginia Society Arts and Crafts show. Merchant Park, 10-5 Saturday, 1-5 Sunday. Raffle for smoked ham. 703/221-3346. SEPTEMBER 24-OCTOBER 4. NO FORMAT SPECIFIED Virginia State Fair. Richmond. Livestock, horse shows, commercial exhibits, arts and crafts, energy exhibits, midway. Lacy J. Dalton in concert. $3; under 12 $1. Fre Recreation Park. 150 craftsmen, food, entertainment, demonstrations. Adults $2, 6-13 and senior citizens $1, under 6 free. 703/877-1467. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA AUGUST 29. International Year of Disabled Persons Festival. Constitution Gardens, Constitution Avenue between 17th and 22nd Streets NW. 8:30 a.m. kickoff at Hains Point with 10-K race featuring wheelchair marathoners George Murray and Phil Carpenter, open to all runners; 343-6781 to register. Entertainment, athletic demonstrations, 10-8. Educational workshops until 4:30. Sponsored by National Park Service, 426-6700. SEPTEMBER 18-20. Waterfront Seafood Celebration benefiting the National Kidney Foundation, between Washington Channel and Maine Avenue SW. 11-7. $5 ticket good for samples of specialties from waterfront restaurants. Demonstrations of seafood handling and preparation, outdoor music, folk dancing and tours of sail boats, yachts, working ships, historical vessels. WEST VIRGINIA AUGUST 21-29. 57th annual State Fair of West Virginia, Fairlea (51/2 hours from Washington.). Agricultural fair: flowers, vegetables, crafts, livestock. Harness racing Monday through Friday. Carden International Circus, marionette show, arts and crafts, band concert daily. Grandstand entertainment: $6 first Friday includes all rides, circus, junior horse show and Middle Earth Marionette Show. This Friday, at 3, 6, 9 p.m.: Tompall and the Glaser Brothers. This Saturday, Jerry Reed and Louise Mandrell at 7, 9:30. This Sunday: the Tennesse Ernie Ford Show at 7 and 9:30. August 28, Marty Robbins, 7 9:30. August 29, the Dirt Band, 7, 9:30. Tickets available day of the show, beginning at 10, $2.50, under 13 free. I-66 to I-81 south, to I-64 west to Lewisburg exit. Left on Route 219 south to fairgrounds. 304/645-1090. SEPTEMBER 4-5. West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival. Opera, photo exhibits, Italian folk dances and song, New World Theater improvisations, puppeteer. Al Martino open-air concert, Friday 9 p.m. Parade Saturday 10 a.m. Children's area, contests, food vendors. "A gigantic family reunion," says Connie Huffman. 304/622-1986. SEPTEMBER 19. Annual Harpers Ferry Civil War Show. 9-5. Displays, collectors items on sale, uniforms, weapons, relics. Cliffside Motor Inn, Route 340. 304/725-2066. SEPTEMBER 25-27. Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce Mountain Heritage arts and crafts festival. Charles Town, near Harpers Ferry (take Halltown exit off Route 340, turn on Route 230, follow signs, take Route 220 to festival site), 10-6. 304/725-2055; out-of-state residents, 800/624-0577. OCTOBER 10-11. Eighth annual Apple Butter Festival, Berkeley Springs. Morgan Country Chamber of Commerce, 304/258-3738. PENNSYLVANIA SEPTEMBER 4-6. Grand Irish Jubilee VII. Barnesville. Irish music, dancing, entertainment. The Guinness Shamrock Run (three and six miles), Friday at 6 p.m. $3, parking $1. 717/773-2284. SEPTEMBER 12-13. Pennsylvania Dutch Farm Festival. Kempton. "Lost Art" crafts, blacksmith shop, soap- and broom-making, wine presses. 215/683-7130.

OCTOBER 3-4, 10-11. Apple Harvest Festival. South Mountain Fairgrounds, Route 234, 10 miles north of Gettysburg. Crafts, food, apple time and preparation. $3 adults, under 12 free. 717/334-6274.