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June 23, 2013

4-H’ers learn a lot from interacting with llamas

Show organizer says youths gain self-confidence

TERRE HAUTE — Students wearing white shirts and black pants gathered at the Show Arena of the Vermillion County Fairgrounds on Friday for a show featuring their unique 4-H animal project: llamas.

Thirteen 4-H’ers have worked with their llamas for weeks before the contest, where champions and reserve champions are chosen by age group every year.

The students are judged based on “their ability to communicate with their animals and to show that they have a relationship built up with the animal,” said Robin Sturgeon, the judge of the contest.

But students get more than a title from interacting with llamas.

“The biggest thing it gives them probably is self-confidence. I have never seen more children who are very refined and shy come out of their shell …” said Nancy Pasko, show organizer, and co-owner of Quail Ridge Llamas.

Quail Ridge Llamas, a farm just west of Clinton, is ran by Pasko and her husband, Steve. They provided 12 out of the 13 llamas on show. One llama is from Heartsong Llamas, a farm also in Clinton.

“It gives city children the opportunity to work with an animal that they would not have the opportunity with,” Pasko said.

The couple worked with children at their farm in preparation for the show, which has been running for 12 years. Preparations included walking the llamas around cones and obstacle courses.

Weeks of preparation is crucial to build a relationship with this unique animal.

Pasko enthusiastically spoke of how different llamas are from other animals. She said llamas don’t bite and can sense stress. If a person approaching is stressed or nervous, llamas will move away from them. She added that this is the reason why children work best with llamas.

Participant Elaine Marshall, 13, keeps this in mind.

“You have to be very calm … they know if you’re nervous or not. If you’re worried, they jump and try to run away from you,” she said.

Marshall has been participating in the show for four years. But this year is different because the llama she used to work with was injured. As a result, she had to get to know a different, much younger llama, and only started training it two weeks ago.

“Mine is younger so I have to make sure I’m in charge all the time … I have to stay in control and not let it get away,” Marshall said.

Her mother, Laura, is pleased with her work.

  “Confidence goes up [when] they can handle the animal very well,” she said.

“Any chance to get your child out in front of an audience is always a good thing. That builds confidence right there,” she added.

A first year participant, 10-year-old Samantha Sexton, spoke of how excited she is about the show. Inspired by her teacher, Pasko, who teaches first grade at Ernie Pyle Elementary School, Sexton diligently worked with her llama at Pasko’s farm. She said she practiced by walking the animal on bubble wrap and around obstacle courses.

And her mother, Christie, noticed a positive change in her daughter.

“… her confidence has grown by being able to get the llama to do certain things,” she said.

As a result, her other daughter Megan, also plans to participate in the show next year.

Another student inspired by Pasko is 11-year-old Mason Holland. He said Pasko asked him to participate in last year’s show. He is back for his second year.

“I ended up liking it so I did it again,” Holland said.

His mother, Mica, sums up the lessons learned by students by working with llamas.

“I think it teaches you a lot of qualities that are important in life like patience and being understanding. It teaches you leadership but 4-H, in general, does that,” she said.

Terre Haute Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or


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