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Llama competition spotlights intelligent animals abilities
Susan Gawarecki and her llama Nike wait their turn on the obstacle course during the Alpaca Llama Show Association Southeast Regional Show at the Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center. - photo by Tom Reed

They are fuzzy. They are cute. And owners of them say that you cannot have just one.

These gentle animals aren’t dogs or cats. They’re actually llamas, and many people across the United States are absolutely in love with them.

The opportunity to see and even touch these animals was available this past weekend at the Alpaca and Llama Show Association Southeastern Regional Championship Show, which was held at the Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center in Gainesville.

On Saturday, llamas took part in performance challenges, and Sunday was reserved for halter classes in which they were judged based on theirappearance.

Craig Swindler, the show superintendent, said that the obstacles get progressively more difficult as the abilities of the animal improves.

There are three adult classes and three youth classes of difficulty. The performance classes are broken into pack, public relations and obstacle. The pack class tests the llamas’ training and trust and the handler’s skills as the llama moves through obstacles while wearing a pack on its back. The public relations class is intended to test the llama and handler at tasks they may face while on public relations excursions such as school or nursing home visits. The obstacle class contains various activities that test the training and trust of the llama and the skills of the handler.

Wally Baker, the judge for the event, said he was looking for the animal’s ability to negotiate a given obstacle in a very smooth and efficient manner. Baker was also looking at the teamwork between the handler and the llama.

Tom Hudgin of Wilmington, N.C., who is the president of the Southern States Llama Association, was competing on Saturday with his llama, Matador.

“The competition this year is key,” he said. “It is very, very tight.”

Hudgin said the competition this year is so good, the winner could pull through by just a one-point difference.

“It all depends on the mood of the llama,” Hudgin said. “Matador could go up to the bridge and say ‘I’m not going to do that’ and just stand there, and of course, you get mega points knocked off for refusals.”

So why do so many people fall head-over-heels for llamas?

“They are very intelligent animals,” said Swindler, who has 60 llamas at his home in Charlotte, N.C. “You can relate to them, and they can relate to you.”

Swindler said llamas have very therapeutic eyes that can melt daily worries away.

“You can share your emotions and your troubles with them, and they just make you feel like everything can beOK,” he said.

Swindler said even his3-year-old granddaughter can lead around a 300-pound adult llama.

“They are a good wholesome animal for the family to have and enjoy,” he said.

Swindler advises those of the baby boom generation who are yearning for a green acre experience to think about adopting a llama. He believes that for them, llamas are perfect animals who can co-occupy the land and enjoy it with them.

“This is an animal that they can enjoy, train to pull a cart, take for hikes and the kids can even enjoy it,” Swindler said. "The fiber is very lightweight and warm, and it is the perfect fiber for the person who likes to knit.”

But what about the common worry of getting spit on by a llama? Does this really happen?

“Llamas don’t share food, so spitting is one way for one llama to tell another llama, ‘this is my food, and you can’t have it,’” Swindler said. “Consequently, when you offer a llama food and some other animal is trying to get it, the llama will spit, and you may get caught in the crossfire.”

Swindler said he doesn’t allow hand feeding by the public at his farm so people don’t get spit on.

But to him, the spitting is harmless.

“Would you rather be bitten by a dog or take a shower from a little bit of spit?” he asked.

As for the prizes of the Championship Show, there were ribbons, trophies and even monetary awards.
Karli Wilbanks, of Sarasota, Fla., took first place in Advanced Pack with her llama, Silver Shadows.

Wilbanks drove nine hours to Gainesville Friday night, arriving in the area at 3 a.m. She then slept until 5 a.m. and then got ready to compete. Wilbanks got interested in llamas by being involved in the 4-H Club, and at age 21, she has been competing for 13 years.

Wilbanks believes llamas are good animals to have because “they are smarter than any dog.”
“They are super sweet and always up for doing anything that you want to do — they try to please you,” she said.

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