The Magic of Kids & Llamas

by | Mar 29, 2021

by | Mar 29, 2021

“Are you ready to lead your llama, Noe?”

Noe, a blond, cute, 4 year-old from Switzerland scrapes the toe of her tiny boot across the dirt and looks down. “Nein,” comes the whispered reply. No. Llamas and people are ready to hit the trail. Lupe, Noe’s llama companion, turns his ears in her direction. He understands German but does not seem to take her rejection personally. She’s a kid. Lupe gazes at Yellowstone’s vast landscape as he is being tied to the saddle of another llama. He is up for the challenge. He has done it before. Working his llama magic, that is.

Llamas and kids have a special connection. Together, they make magic on a regular basis. I have witnessed it again and again on our treks over the many summers. Kids attach quickly to llamas because of the animals’ calm acceptance of whoever or whatever you are. In little humans they recognize innocence and trust, and they do their best to tread carefully around them. The kids look up to an animal that towers over them and follows willingly the gentlest tug of their tiny hands. While adults are happy to park their llama hiking companions in the meadow at the end of the hike, the kids are often inseparable from their new friends. They make sure the llamas are okay and feed them wildflowers and grain.

We haven’t hiked more than 10 minutes down the trail. Noe, walking next to her mother, turns her head repeatedly to watch Lupe marching along tied behind Picasso. He seems oblivious of the small hiker who stumbles on the trail craning her neck to to see him. Soon I feel a tug on my shirt. “May I lead my llama now?” Noe asks, with emphasis on “now” – “jetzt!” I oblige, slip Lupe’s Lead into her hand, and the two glide along the trail with a happy spring in their step. As I snatch a photo, Lupe seems to grin. He has worked his magic and it soon becomes apparent so has she. Tall llama and little human bounce along, enjoying the moment of new adventure and a magical friendship. 

Candido is often the favorite llama on the trek. Beautiful, fluffy and never skittish or pushy, he likes his personal space and wanders around free and untethered in camp. Sierra, 11 and her brother who is 8 are on the trek with their parents. When everybody is settled in camp, Sierra who is shy, sits down and begins to sketch her surroundings while her brother just wants to hug his llama, Teddy, as much as possible until Teddy reminds him gently that now he would like to graze. Candido, meanwhile, avoids the parents’ well-meaning attempts to feed him wildflowers by throwing himself on the ground and wallowing, raising a lot of dust. After setting up the tents, I later check on the llamas who are settled in the meadow. Candido is sitting next to Sierra, who is bent over her pad sketching him. Candido is definitely posing to look his best.

Quinn is 8 and full of impatient energy. He asks a thousand questions and wants to know the answer to more. Quinn seems annoyed by Diego the llama, who hums incessantly and pulls back on his lead slowing Quinn down. The boy, who wants to get to camp as fast as possible, argues with Diego to no avail. His mother offers to lead Diego and hands over her llama, Ishi, to her son. We resume our hike. “How is Diego?” Quinn, who is now leading Ishi but ignoring him, demands to know just a short while later. Diego, way in the back of the line, keeps humming. After a few turns in the trail, Quinn is not happy being separated from his original charge and demands him back. Off he goes again with Diego and as I turn a short while later, the two are walking quietly and in step towards camp.

There are many examples of the special magic between kids and llamas. Llamas do not like kids running wild around them, but more often than not I observe youngsters becoming quiet and respectful around the llamas, wanting to please them and just be with them on their terms. The llamas respond to kids’ honest approach and their need to be encouraged. Noe was intimidated at first but sensed that Lupe would be gentle and considerate. Sierra felt accepted and her art appreciated by her new friend. Quinn gave up his impatience in return for a peaceful friendship. The llamas sensed that their help was needed and showed the kids that it is okay to be afraid, shy or impatient and that if they made a tiny step towards the llamas, there would be a huge reward that put smiles on everybody’s faces. 

Returning from a trek one day, I hurried home to resume the training of our novice packer, Alicio. I entered his corral with lead in hand and goal in mind. Alicio moved away from me and did not want to cooperate. I was surprised because he had advanced nicely in an earlier session. Then I remembered. I stopped in my tracks and closed my eyes. When I opened them again, my heart was open as well. I smiled at beautiful Alicio and took a bow. “May I have this dance?” I asked. And as I clicked the lead lock into his halter ring, he didn’t object. Soon we moved around the corral in unison, enjoying the magic of working together and understanding and respecting each other. I was honest in my requests and Alicio responded in kind. After a while he seemed to smile and I swear I heard him whisper: “You have been with those kids again, haven’t you?”

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