Hayden When contest judge Chandra Herold asks first-time competitor Zava Zupan if she plans to compete in the Routt County Fair's 4-H/FFA Llama Show again next year, Zava smiles and nods quickly, mimicking Herold's expressions.
"Can I, Mary?" Zava asks Mary White, a neighbor and one of two other Routt County 4-H participants who have taken on the organization's llama project.
Mary says, "Of course," and Zava beams.
For Friday's showmanship and trail competitions, Zava borrowed one of the White family's three long-necked animals. The llamas go by Otis, Dillon and Bandit. Mary took first place in the showmanship contest, and her sister, Alana, took the blue ribbon in the trail contest, where the three girls were asked to lead their llamas through a gate and over some logs, among other obstacles.
"I've been around llamas my whole life," Alana White said, explaining that her parents have owned llamas since before she was born. The family often takes the animals packing on long backcountry camping trips. This is Alana's fifth year showing llamas at the fair.
"It's a great project. Obviously, it's very unique. And the only competition is my sister," Alana said between the showmanship and trail contests. The project's smaller scale - with only one family of llamas involved - was a reason to take it up, she said. "I knew there was a project, but nobody was doing it at the time. So we did it to give it more publicity."
Herold has lived in Yampa for five years and showed llamas for four out of the 10 years she did 4-H growing up in Delta County. She judged the girls on their control of the llamas and their ability to help the animals stay calm for showmanship and easily navigate obstacles for the trail. Herold said she loved the time she spent with llamas growing up.
"I enjoy the animals themselves. Their dispositions are generally very sweet, and they're very trusting animals," she said.
That trust was clear in the trail contest, as the three girls took turns leading their llamas carefully through the course, before the animals ended the task with a nonchalant hop over 2-foot cubes of packed sawdust. A llama's stoicism makes it a low-maintenance, though different, kind of pet, Alana said.
"They're not like a dog kind of pet. But they're a wonderful animal, and they're easy to take care of."
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