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"Obstacle Course Competition"


Alpaca Final Competition

By Cathleen Y. Greer

Beautiful Shiloh Springs Ranch in La Cresta was the site of the very first Alpaca Camp Competition on Saturday, August 14. Owners Nancy and Rich Masak graciously opened their gorgeously landscaped and maintained alpaca ranch for 11 children, ages 7-12, for five Saturdays,  culminating in a challenging day of contests where the competitors showcased their skills and competed for cash prizes. 

The brainchild of owner Nancy Masak, the Camp was held at Shiloh Springs starting July 17. The students had formal lessons about alpacas; they learned about the animals’ physical characteristics, history, reproductive traits, behavioral characteristics, daily maintenance and care, and the end product, their luxurious fleece. In addition, the children were paired with a young alpaca that was minimally halter-trained. They worked with their four-footed charges for a large part of each camp day to build a relationship and earn the animals’ trust.

Along with their alpacas, the students also spent time learning the obstacle course and the handling skills that they would need for the final competition. "I have been around alpacas, caring for them, helping them to birth, taking them to shows, every aspect of their lives. This combination of alpacas and kids was truly magical; better than I imagined it would be, and the most fun I've ever had with alpacas," said Nancy. 

The four weeks of hard work in the hot sun went by quickly and the day of reckoning dawned on the 14th. Each competitor arrived at the ranch, their show clothes and game faces on. The Masaks had painstakingly laid out the obstacle course, plus tables, chairs and refreshments for the spectators and judges. There was an excited tension in the air as the students compared notes and waited impatiently for the contest to begin. The alpacas were haltered and ready in the pen, their curious ears pricked as if they knew they were on stage.  

Each newbie alpaca handler began the competition by presenting their alpaca at the judges’ table and answering ten questions about alpacas. They then proceeded to the “Handling Skills” section where they had to demonstrate how to lead while walking and running, how to back-up their animal, how they can lift a foot (for routine toenail trimming), and show the teeth (required in the show ring). In addition, they had to encourage their alpaca to place their front or rear feet in a small rectangle and walk through a “kiddie” pool filled with water. All of these skills take a great deal of practice and patience as alpacas naturally do not like to be handled and are protective of their feet. 

After the Handling Skills, the students started directly on the “Timed Obstacle Course,” beginning with “Walking on Plastic” where the alpaca had to be led over a slippery, tarped surface. The next obstacle was a “Jump”, much like one used in an equestrian event, followed by an “Advanced Jump” where the alpaca must leap on top of hay bales to simulate jumping into and out of a trailer for transport. Alpacas are often driven to shows and to other ranches. Obstacle #4 was the “Turn Around”, a small circle of rope laid on the ground where the handler must ask the alpaca to turn around in a very tight circle. Then it was onto the next obstacle, the “Bridge,” where the student had to coax the alpaca to walk up a ramp, over a bridge, and then down the other side. The “Seesaw” was the next challenge; the alpaca had to step onto a seesaw and walk across it, even when it began to tip downward. A series of pipes laid on the ground to create a “Maze” was the next stop, and the young competitors had to lead their animals without touching the maze structure. “Weaving” was next, as alpaca and handler had to move alternately through poles, both one way, then back again. Last, but not least, was the dreaded “Archway with Streamers”, the pair had to walk through an archway with streamers hanging down, which proved to be especially challenging as alpacas do not like to “go through” wildly fluttering things that they cannot see through. 

After all 11 contestants had completed the course, the spectators rose and expressed their admiration by cheering wildly for the student/alpaca pairs, who had each given their very best in a fierce competition. Then, one final very important contest had to be decided: The Egg Race. Three age groups competed against each other by racing their alpaca, on a lead, while carrying a raw egg in a spoon from one fence of the pasture to another. The winner was the team who reached the finish line first with egg intact. 

The triumphant winners were: 

                        Skills and Obstacles:
                                    1st Place:   Garrett Turner
                                    2nd Place:  Allison Pendergrass
                                    3rd Place:  Carleigh Campbell

                        Egg Race:
                                    Ages 7 and Under:   Ramon Santos
                                    Ages 10 and Under: Savannah Kiser
                                    Ages 12 and Under: Carleigh Campbell

In addition, several “Judges Awards” were given, including:

            “Best All-Around Handler”:              KayLynn Turner
            “Best Diva Alpaca Handler”:            Kalista Santos
            “Best Off-Lead Hander”:                 Ramon Santos
            “Winner of Alpaca Facts”:               Rachel Alexander
            “First to Master Hay Bale Jump”:    Taylor Campbell
            “Best Pole Weaver”:                       Bethany Campbell
            “Best Maze Handler”:                      Beth Ballard
            “Best Alpaca Backer-Upper”             Savannah Kiser

All in all, a wonderful day at Shiloh Springs was enjoyed by all. As Rich Masak exclaimed, “We will be making this an annual camp; it's the best way to get to understand and appreciate how special these animals are."

Note:  Many of these young alpaca handlers are going to be competing at Alpaca Fest West, SoCalPaca’s annual alpaca show to be held November 13-14 in the City of Industry. Come cheer them on!!!!

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