Subject: Alpaca Show (and Tell)
What is an alpaca show? In the simplest terms, it’s similar to a dog show where an alpaca’s features and characteristics are evaluated by a certified judge and ranked against their peers in the same class.
I went to the North American Alpaca Show (NAAS) & Northeast Alpaca Show (NEAS) in Springfield, MA to learn about the show’s process so without the added pressure of competing. One alpaca owner I spoke with said attending just to learn was a smart approach rather than “baptism by fire” in the show ring.
You do not have to be an alpaca owner or competitor to attend an alpaca show. You can attend as a spectator or contact the organizer and volunteer to help (they LOVE volunteers) or contact a farm and ask if they would like assistance at the event (as I did). I met a woman at the event, Julia, who wants to own alpacas one day and learns all she can while volunteering at the show. One year she spent time in the ring accompanying the judge and captured all the notes given by the judge - talk about an inside track!
The show consists of a half-day for arrival/check-in, followed by one or two days of competition (depending on the number of entrants).
Registration and check-in are relatively low-key. Trucks and trailers arrive throughout the afternoon. Health papers are submitted, microchips are scanned, and then the alpacas are led to their assigned pens and settle in with fresh hay and water while fans hum to keep them comfortable. Owners connect with long-time colleagues, make new connections, and admire (and size up) each other’s herds. This is a very friendly community that enjoys talking and sharing information about their animals and operations.
The next morning the organizers host an exhibitor meeting outlining the day's events and schedule, introduced the judges, and encouraged everyone to be supportive of their fellow competitors - if someone looks like they're struggling, step up and offer to help.
The rest of the day is spent with judges occupying their own show rings for NAAS and NEAS who conduct halter shows. These judges examine all the animals in each color and class (juvenile, yearling, two-year olds, etc.,) and look for particular conformity in the alpaca’s body (legs, gait, head, etc.) and uniformity, density, fineness, in their fleece by examining three areas (middle of the back, above the shoulder, and the flank). Based on what they see amongst the entrants, the judges will consider the qualities of the entrants and determine the rankings of the animals before them and award ribbons accordingly (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) -- but it doesn't end there. When all the color class competitions (white, brown, darks, and grays) are completed, all the first and second place winners of each class category by color are invited back to the ring for championship judging against their peers. As above, each is examined for its appearance and fleece qualities and two winners are chosen: Champion (1st place) and Reserve (2nd place). Of all the entrants who have competed, these two have risen to the top as having the best qualities of all the entrants in their color class.
But wait, there's more! After all the competitions in the various color classes are completed, all the Champions in all the color classes return to the ring to be judged and select a "Judges Choice" (comparable to best in show).
I learned the above not only by attending but also by being invited to be a "handler" for an alpaca who was there to compete (his name is Archer). Archer is a member of Alpacas of New Hampshire at Sleeping Monk Farm, and his owner asked me if I would like to bring Archer into the show ring. After viewing a few of the judging events, I felt that, yes, I could do that with Archer. My responsibilities were not complicated, but first, I needed to get along with Archer. If he didn't like me, then why would he want to spend 15-20 minutes with me in the show ring? I went to his pen and introduced myself to him as I clipped the lead to his halter. I spoke with him as we walked across the arena and let him know what we were going to do; after all, it was his first time in the show ring too. All we needed to do was walk across the show ring when instructed, stand where we were told to stand, and stand still while Archer's fleece is being examined. Overall, it's simple enough, unless you have an alpaca who isn't willing to do any of that. Archer was agreeable to walking with me and standing with me throughout the judging process. Archer was so agreeable that he was comfortable with standing right next to me while my arm was around his shoulders like you would with a best friend. In the moment, I felt like he was my best friend. He did wiggle a few times while the judges parted his coat to take a close examination, and also while they briefly grabbed his testicles (I don't blame him one bit for that!). After the judges completed their initial evaluation of Archer and the other competitors, the judge asked us handlers to have our alpacas stand in profile and then face forward so they could be visually evaluated for their overall body conformation. After more consideration, the judge might reexamine an alpaca's coat and then make notes on a scorecard. He would then ask each competitor to step forward in order of our award ranking (1st, 2nd, 3rd place, etc.) and hand out award ribbons congratulating each handler/alpaca for their placement. The judge would then take a moment and summarize to the competitors and audience the reasons behind his decision starting with first place and why that particular alpaca's qualities qualified for their award and reviewed each subsequent alpaca accordingly. Archer and I competed in two halter competitions and placed second and third respectively. For our first time in the ring, I was pleased with our results and so was Archer's owner.
And if that isn't enough to keep you busy, while the above is going on, there is a "walking fleece" show happening in a third ring. Each alpaca can compete in its color class for fleece assessment only. Unlike the halter now, the judging is purely based on fleece qualities and scored accordingly. These qualities are given scores on a scorecard and -- you guessed it -- the best score wins. Archer and I entered that competition, and he took fifth place in his class.
Overall, it was a great experience and a lot of fun. I met a lot of nice people who were kind and generous with their time and information about their farms. I'm glad I went without the anxiety of needing to compete with my own alpacas. It broke the ice for me, and now I feel more comfortable knowing what's expected at these events so that I can bring members of my own herd to enter the show ring.
Here is a short video of my experience:
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