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Its llama llove: Competing pack animals bring out enthusiasts
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A pair of llamas check out the action Saturday at the Southeast Grand Championship Llama Show at Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center. - photo by Tom Reed

For llama lovers

What: Southeast Grand Championship Llama Show

When: 8 a.m. today

Where: Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center, 1865 Calvary Church Road, Gainesville.

Admission: Free.

They’re cute. They’re soft. And, oh yeah, they can weigh up to 400 pounds.

Still, so many people are absolutely in love with llamas.

Spectators had the opportunity so see and even pet these friendly animals Saturday at the Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center. Llamas and their handlers lined up to compete in the Southeast Grand Championship Llama Show sponsored by The Southern States Llama Association, a nonprofit organization of llama owners dedicated to the promotion, education and fellowship of raising and training llamas.

Starting at 8 a.m. today, the halter classes will be held in which llamas are lined up and judged by their appearance. The event is free and open to the public.

Saturday’s show was dedicated to Terry Dwyre, who died about a month ago. Dwyre helped run the Chicopee Woods Ag Center.

"She loved the llama show, and she loved the llama people," said Karen Pihera, a veterinarian from Blue Ridge.

Llamas throughout the Southeast competed for prizes Saturday in obstacle courses and cart-driving events. Some of the courses included having llamas back up in-between chairs, remain still despite the loud noise of a trash can and jump into the side of a van.

Patti Morgan of Kansas was the judge for Saturday’s competition. Morgan, who has been a judge since 2000, was looking forward to the entire show.

"I think it’s going to be a lot of fun," Morgan said. "This is a big show. It is a regional
championship, so that makes it great, and of course, we’re doing the performance courses today, which are the obstacle courses. They’re the fun ones where the llamas jump and run and do all other kinds of things."

Morgan warned the competitors that they may see her laughing or smiling at their llamas while they are in the middle of a course.

"They just have funny looks sometimes," Morgan said. "They’re very expressive animals, and they’ll get a look on their face like, ‘you expect me to do that?’"

Thomas Hudgin of Wilmington, N.C., first became interested in llamas when he was at a sheep dog trial. There was a man there who was letting people rent a llama for an hour for only $5.

"In that hour, I feel in love with it," Hudgin said.

He then told his wife that if they ever had a farm, he wanted a llama.

Hudgin, who has now been competing for 10 years, had two llamas with him for Saturday’s event, Matador and Digory.

Hudgin admits that he gets nervous during competitions but only because he wants to do things perfectly.

"I know the llamas pretty well, so I anticipate whether they’re going to do the next obstacle coming up or not," he said. "And when I know that they’re not, I keep trying to think, ‘well, maybe this will be my lucky day and he’ll do it.’"

Hudgin was a little skeptical about Matador’s ability to jump into the side of a van.

"I know already that he’s going to have trouble going in that van," Hudgin said. "I am very confident that he will do everything else pretty well, like it is supposed to be done."

In the end, Matador did make it into the van.

Barbara Johansen, Hudgin’s wife, competes with Matador in the carting event.

Johansen said that Matador is a good cart llama because he is calm and doesn’t jump around a lot.

"Matador has won many times, but he doesn’t always win," Johansen said with a laugh.

Kendra Hampel, 17, of Warner Robins was ready to compete with her llama, Chip.

Hampel has been competing since age 8. She was first introduced to llamas when she went to a fair.

"There were these weird animals there," Hampel said.

She quickly learned that those weird animals were llamas, and she’s been hooked ever since.

Hampel is a member of 4-H Club, and through it has been able to take her llamas to schools to educate children about these unique animals.

"Everyone always has that horrible predetermined notion that llamas are angry, they spit, they kick — horses do that," Hampel said. "Llamas are like dogs. They all have their different personalities. They can be mean when they want, and they can be sweet when they want, but for the most part, they are gentle and easy for kids to work with."

John Gabriel, 12, was competing in the youth category Saturday with his llama, Flying Tiger. He became interested in llamas once his mother learned about them from a friend.

John personally enjoys participating in the obstacle course.

"You get to do a lot of fun stuff," he said. "That’s when you get to run, you get to jump, and you get to go under things."

Many others were looking forward to the show.

"It’s the best of the best in the Southeast," said Karen Pihera, who owns 30 llamas. "This show is a really fun social event."

Surprisingly, it is common for llama owners to have more than one llama.

"It’s like a potato chip," Kitty Tuck-Hampel said. "You can’t have just one."

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