GREENFIELD — With animals prancing in colorful get-ups at every turn, Sunday’s 4-H Llama and Alpaca Costume Contest was full of photo-worthy moments.
But there’s little doubt Ali Bewley’s turn in the ring was the day’s most memorable. Just as the young 4-H’er made a loop toward the south end of the show arena, LeBron the alpaca — dressed in fisherman’s gear — decided he’d had enough.
The alpaca gave a couple strong tugs on his lead, wresting free of the 11-year-old’s grasp, and then took a swift leap over the gate.
It was over in seconds — the animal was quickly escorted back to its pen, and no one was hurt by the rogue contestant. At the end of the day, Ali accepted a fifth-place ribbon in the event.
It was a teaching moment for a room full of young 4-H’ers: Expect the unexpected when it comes to working with livestock, and don’t give up when things don’t go your way. After all, the costume contest, for both animals and 4-H’ers, is an exercise in patience, organizers say.
Each year, 4-H’ers are challenged not only to dream up creative costumes but to train their animals to tolerate them. Llamas and alpacas don’t like having their legs or faces touched, let alone covered with fabric. So to fashion a costume focusing on those areas not only takes creativity but a willingness to put up with plenty of trial and error. The more successfully a costume covers the animal and stays put, the more points a 4-H’er receives from the judges.
The 4-H’ers are in costume, too, complementing their animals’ outfits in hopes of creating the perfect pairing. Sunday brought out the likes of Mario and Luigi, Woody and Buzz Lightyear, and the Grinch and his “reindeer.”
Some animals are more tolerant than others, and 4-H’ers have to be ready should one — like LeBron — decide it doesn’t want to cooperate.
But that’s all part of the learning experience, parent helper Kelley Basey said.
“They learn to overcome frustration,” Basey said. “When an animal doesn’t want to perform, it doesn’t have to. You are a slave to your animal sometimes.”
After the event, Ali was already brainstorming how she could avoid having a similar issue next year. She wondered if Lebron’s costume might have been too long, causing him to stumble and become startled.
“I’ve never seen him do that before,” she said.
The 4-H’ers not only debut costumes; they also choose walk-on music to top off their presentation.
On Sunday, Allison Hawkins, a 10-year 4-H’er, hoped to take advantage of a Disney fan favorite.
As “Let It Go,” the hit song from “Frozen,” rang out from overhead, Hawkins entered the arena dressed as Elsa, the protagonist ice queen, with alpaca Buckley in tow, dressed as Olaf, the movie’s comedic snowman.
Hawkins beamed as she walked Buckley through the arena, tossing silver sequins into the air.
The llama and alpaca projects present a special challenge for 4-H’ers, Hawkins said, because the animals can be temperamental and require special training to be ready for show.
“You have to create a bond with the animal and have them trust you,” she said.
There’s the luck of the draw, too. Some animals are simply calmer than others, said 4-H’er Allison Kirklin, which gives a few competitors an advantage in the ring.
As Ariel from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” Allison, 13, wore a bright red wig that was a little hotter on the 85-degree day than she originally hoped. Her alpaca, Noah, was dressed in red and sported stuffed claws hanging from his sides like little arms. He was Sebastian, Ariel’s wise-cracking crab pal.
While it’s more likely for the animals to tolerate simpler costumes, it’s hard for many to resist an elaborate display.
Naomi Robertson’s llama, Peyton, carried the house from Disney’s “Up” on its back, complete with balloons attached to the roof.
An alpaca’s back isn’t entirely flat, of course, so the house occasionally wobbled from side to side.
The secret to keeping it in place?
“Just hope,” Naomi said. “And straps.”
As competitors packed away their costumes after the show, Jane Wakeland, owner of the notorious alpaca whose leap from the show arena made for a dramatic close to the event, was looking on the bright side.
“If we can’t win,” she said with a laugh, “we like to go for the big finish.”