KOKOMO, Ind. — Indiana University Kokomo is home to a national champion.
Amanda Smith, a senior psychology major, recently showed the champion yearling light wool female llama, Marni, at the 2012 Alpaca Llama Show Association Grand National Show in Lincoln, Neb.
"Competing at nationals is a wonderful experience," she said. "People from all over the country come to Nebraska for a weekend of friendly competition. Over the years, we build relationships with other competitors, and sometimes nationals is the only time we are able to see one another."
Smith, 21, has shown llamas since she was in middle school, and believes what she has learned in her psychology class, including about positive reinforcement and operant conditioning, has contributed to her success.
"It's amazing how I can relate what I'm using in my classes to train my llamas," she said.
Smith grew up in Fort Wayne, and became interested in llamas because a friend showed them. Her mother wasn't thrilled about her new interest, fearing she would get dirty, but Smith signed up for the 4-H llama program.
The project does not require members to own an animal, so she leased one from Schlemmer Critter Haven Farm in Huntertown. The owners also were project leaders for llamas.
After two years of leasing, Smith's grandfather decided she was serious about llamas, and bought her Quartz, her first llama. She continued in 4-H until she graduated from high school, and then continued into open class shows.
Llamas are divided into classes by wool type, gender, and experience, and can compete in several categories. Showmanship demonstrates the handler's ability to show the llama; while performance shows how the animal maneuvers through a series of obstacle courses.
Smith said performance also showcases the relationship between llama and handler.
"It shows the bond you have built, and the trust the llama has in you to lead them through the course," she said.
Pack competition shows how the llama can perform as a pack animal, which is its primary function in its native South America. Public relations shows how the llama behaves in situations it may encounter on an outing in the community, like balloons, narrow walkways, steps, being petted by a stranger, and encountering strange animals.
Smith and Quartz compete at the master level, which is earned by winning at lower levels. She said it is an honor to compete at that level.
"Getting to masters was my ultimate goal," she said. "Many of the other competitors are the legends in llama competition. I'm now competing with the people who taught me everything I know."
She prepares for competition at the farm, in Huntertown, while also taking a full course load at IU Kokomo, working as a peer advisor in the Center for Student Success and Advising. She is also an orientation leader, and in the honors program. Smith also was an IU-SEEK peer mentor.
Smith credits the llama project for helping her get involved.
"I had never been in an extracurricular activity before I joined 4-H to show llamas," she said. "It gave me the confidence to step out of my comfort zone and try other new things."
Last year, she bought Marni, her second llama. Both board at the farm, and she goes there as often as she can to prepare for shows. She's had a successful year, winning overall grand champion master performance at the Indiana State Fair with Quartz, and novice performance grand champion at Lamafest and Alpaca Showcase at Michigan State University with Marni.
At nationals, Marni also won reserve champion novice professional relations, and sixth-place novice pack. Quartz placed in the top 10 in master obstacle, master pack, and master public relations.
Smith graduates in May, then hopes to find an online graduate program she can complete while working. Eventually, she hopes to have her own farm, and to sponsor a 4-H llama club, where she can teach future llama handlers the benefits of showing llamas.
"Working with my llamas gave me goals to work towards," she said. "Before I started showing llamas, I wasn't focused, and I was hanging out with the wrong people. It kept me out of trouble, and showed me what happens when you set goals and work hard to achieve them."
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.