I was surprised to learn the Llama Futurity Association, in conjunction with the International Llama Registry, was having its 2013 World Championship Show & Sale this weekend. In fact, I was surprised to learn there was a Llama Futurity Association and an International Llama Registry. But they actually exist and they were having a llama show.
I’d never in my entire life been to a llama show before. Not once. This one promised to have pack trials (I still have no idea what llama pack trials are), costume classes (sadly, the costume event was held earlier — but c’mon, llamas in costume? It is to swoon), a llama cart pulling competition (which I assume involves llamas pulling a cart), and a live auction (in case you wanted to buy an extra llama while you’re there). Was there any way I was going to miss what might be my only chance to see an international and world llama event? Hell no.
When we arrived, there were two events underway. The main event was a sort of llama conformation judging. Like the Westminster Kennel Club, only for llamas. A man in a burgundy coat was examining groups of llamas with a critical eye. He had them stand, he had them walk in a circle, he had them…well, stand and walk in a circle. That was pretty much it. Then he’d frown a bit and point at one, then arrange them in some sort of order and everybody mostly seemed pleased.
I confess, I didn’t give much attention to the llama conformation event, though I’m sure it was fascinating. But somebody mentioned that at the same time, at the other end of the arena, was — and I swear I’m not making this up — a llama agility trial.
It was described to me as the llama equivalent of a dog agility trial. As it turned out, that was a rather generous description. There was certainly an agility course — a set of standard obstacles laid out — and the entrants were required to attempt the course while an impartial judge evaluated the animal’s success at each obstacle. And it was certainly a trial for many of the contestants, both human and camelid. But the concept of agility was stretched pretty thin.
The llamas were required to 1) walk under an object, requiring them to lower their heads a few inches, 2) stand on a square, requiring them to stand still with all four hooves on the square, 3) stand on a platform, which was basically a square elevated to a height of maybe six inches, 4) hop over a pair of jumps approximately a foot in height, 5) walk up a ramp, turn a corner, and walk down the ramp without falling, 6) walk backwards for about a meter, 7) walk sideways for about a meter, 8) walk through a puddle, and 9) walk through a short tunnel.
Now, this may sound silly. And in some sense it is — it really is. Unlike dogs, many of whom seem to really enjoy running agility obstacles (or at least enjoy the interaction with their handlers), the llamas clearly didn’t give a rat’s ass about the trial. They were mostly willing to be led through the obstacles, but it didn’t take a llamaologist to see that, given the chance, they’d have preferred to just be standing around looking dignified.
I’m told llamas are intelligent animals, and I’ve no reason to doubt that. They have a sort of lofty poise, and carry themselves with solemn stateliness. But I’m not sure anybody could claim they’re particularly agile. Only one of the llamas I watched actually completed the course without incident. With that single exception, the llamas were entirely dismissive of the small jumps; most of them just strolled right through them, not even bothering to acknowledge their existence. It was as if they were too polite to point out that some ill-bred rascal had inadvertently cluttered up the area with some planks.
What kept this event from being completely comical was this: the love and affection felt by the handlers for their llamas. They wanted their animals to do well, to be sure, but mostly they just seemed to enjoy being actively engaged with them. It was rather sweet to watch them together, even when the animals appeared absolutely puzzled about why in the world this human expected them to walk sideways (if llamas had thought balloons, there would have been dozens that said I’m terribly sorry, but I just don’t understand the point of this.)
One of the things that surprised me (and there were a lot of things that surprised me) was that most of the llama handlers were women — primarily young women. In fact, women seemed to be in charge of almost every aspect of the entire llama-fest. There were men and boys there, of course, and a few of them participated in the activities (it also appeared that most of the judges were men), but everywhere I looked it was women who were making things happen and keeping things running smoothly.
There’s something wonderful about events like this. There’s no money in it; the only reward is the pleasure of participating. These people brought their llamas (and a handful of alpaca) from all over the U.S. simply out of passion. And that’s beautiful.
So sure, the notion of a llama agility trial is absurd. Who cares. These folks were having fun, and the llamas didn’t seem to object very much. I’d be hard-pressed to find a better way to spend a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon.