The Cumberland County 4-H Alpaca Club assembled at the Shippensburg Community Fair to compete in the Alpaca Show at the Robert L. Finkenbinder Livestock Show Ring last Tuesday.

Featured in the lineup were two main competitions, showmanship and the obstacle course. The club members also were separated into age classes: Intermediates (ages 14-16) Juniors (11-13) and Novices (8-10). 

All 18 boys and girls competed in their own individual age class with hopes of moving onto the final and being named the Champion Showman of Alpacas at the fair.

Karson Hair with his alpaca, Marcus, was the winner of the Intermediate Class. Emma Gebhart with her alpaca, Edger Allan Poe, was the winner of the Novice Class. Chloe Martinez was the winner of the Junior Division, and later named the Champion Showman in the final round. She received a banner and prize money for her win, as well as an invitation to return Friday to compete in the Supreme Livestock Showman Contest. Karson was second overall, and Emma was third.   

Veterinarian Dr. Shawn Crawford, of Camp Hill and Susquehanna, judged the competition.

“I was looking for the kids’ poise, and how the kids handled themselves in the rings, more than anything else,” Crawford said. “You're dealing with animals, and the unpredictability of animals. Kids at that young of age are trying to realize that even though their animals are out of control, they still have to stay poised.”

The showmanship portion is judged based on the preparation,  control and presentation demonstrated by the showman and alpaca in the ring, adult members of the club said. 

The judge is looking for eye contact and alertness from the showman as they walk around the ring with their alpacas. The showmen later need to hold their alpacas in place while standing in line awaiting their turn to talk to Crawford. During this time, they may have to take their alpaca for a quick walk.

Crawford poses the same question to each of the competitors, testing their knowledge on health, anatomy, age or quality of alpacas. He sometimes asked the showman to open up the alpaca’s mouth to show the teeth.

Chloe, of Mechanicsburg, who has competed in three Shippensburg Fair contests, did not believe it was her name being called as the overall winner. She thought they made a mistake. 

Chloe noted her hard work as a main factor in her victory, especially her focus on studying the different questions that could be asked by the judge.

“The judge asked us how many stomachs would an alpaca have. And, the answer is only one stomach, but there are three compartments in their stomach,” she said.

Emma, who has been showing alpacas for two years, said her great-great-grandfather used to be a vet, which is one of the reasons she shows alpacas.

“My alpaca didn't like to stand still, so I made sure to get there super early to make sure he had some rest beforehand. And then, I worked on some obstacles because he is from a petting zoo, and he has never been on a lead, or a halter, so he's never been away from the farm at all.”

She also noted, “I continue to do alpaca shows because I've loved animals since I was little. I always watched ‘The Incredible Dr. Pol’ with my family, so I always wanted to work with animals. I started with alpacas, then after a little bit, I moved up to cows.”

The same young contestants also had the chance to compete in a course featuring 10 obstacles. 

The obstacle course aims to build trust between the alpaca and its handler, as well as desensitize the animal, adult members of the club said. The idea is walking through a course, unnatural to the alpaca, and the handler should not be pulling or tugging their alpaca, rather they should be leading the alpaca.

Some of the many obstacles include clearing a hurdle; passing through a Hula Hoop; walking upon a surface with an uncomfortable color and texture; weaving; walking on a teeter-totter; walking up and down steps; and passing through noisy jingle bells. The obstacles may be varied based on age. 

“These kids work with these animals in a barn setting, and the animals are used to it,” Crawford said. “Then, you bring them into this obstacle course, so there is unpredictability, and that's what it is about at this young age, the kids needing to handle themselves, more than anything else.” 

The young handlers first have an introductory walk through of the course when they are allowed to ask any questions. They then must memorize the designated order of obstacles, and cannot go out of order. They also are not allowed to exceed three refusals by the alpaca. After three refusals, they must skip the obstacle and move onto the next one.

Rachel Hogan was named the winner of the Intermediate Division. Lauralie Scibilia was named the winner of the Junior Division. Katy Ruoro was the winner of the Novice Division. There was no final round.

Katy thought she was going to place last, and thus she was not sure about her secret for success.

“It's a lot of fun, and you learn a lot of stuff. And, it's pretty easy to earn some extra money when you have down time. It gives you something to do,” Katy said.

Lauralie noted, “I always liked animals, so it's a happy place because I love animals either way, so I really appreciate the opportunity to work with animals.” 

She also noted her secret: “Bond with your alpaca.” 

“If you just start out with an alpaca, and you are going to do obstacles, it's sort of hard because they don't trust you as much until you work with them.”

“I do this for fun. On Sundays, I have nothing to do, and this got me something to do. It's really fun working with alpacas, and they are really loyal,” said Aliyah Petty, 10, of Camp Hill. 

When they are not showing or walking through an obstacle course, the trio is learning to spin the alpaca fiber, and turn the fiber into items that they can later sell to make extra money for their club.

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