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Millie the Llama Whisperer

Millie the Llama Whisperer
Posted on 01/31/2018
Ralston Valley High School student Millie Mayo practices some of her llama obstacle course skills at the Bear Track farm in Golden.Every year, the National Western Stock Show opens a window on the world of western ranching and farming. While the cattle shows and auctions are a centerpiece, sometimes the most fun happens when the place gets overrun with pigs.

The junior market swine show is always a hit, as handlers try to impress judges. Ralston Valley High School junior Millie Mayo is one of the competitors, and as she takes her pig, Pearl, through her paces, she keeps a laser-sharp focus.

“When you’re in the arena, you want to have high eye contact and intensity with the judge to show them that you’re in tune not only with your animal but with them as well,” Mayo explained. “To show a pig successfully you have to have confidence, poise, and just be really hard working.”

For Millie, animals are just a way of life. Her family roots include ranching, and her mom’s job as a veterinarian has put Millie into contact with all kinds of critters since she was a little girl. Her membership in 4H has also helped, but as much as she likes showing pigs, it’s not her passion. You’ll need to come to the Bear Track Farm in Golden to find Millie’s true calling. This is where owner Jerry Dunn keeps llamas, including one that is very close to Millie’s heart: Humphrey.

“He’s twelve. People always ask ‘what breed is your llama but they don’t really have breeds. They’re more of a wool type. There’s light wool, medium wool, and heavy wool. So he’s medium wool. He’s great, he’s awesome. I’ve been showing Humphrey for three years,” explained Mayo.

It’s been a successful partnership, with the two of them earning award after award.

“I just think the llamas are really fascinating creatures. They’re pretty docile and they’re really smart and I think it’s really incredible to be able to work with an animal that wants to work, that wants to do what you’re asking them to do,” she said.

When Millie shows Humphrey, she has specific performance areas to focus on. There are obstacle challenges that handler and animal must navigate.

“To be really good in showmanship with a llama it takes things like balance and coordination and just having a show presence,” she explained.

There’s a public relations test, as well.

“Public relations is, if I were to take my llama to a nursing home or a high school, how would he react with weaving in and out of desks, or having people touch him or loading in or out of a trailer,” said Mayo.

There’s also an evaluation of how well the llama can pack, and no, we’re not talking about suitcases.
“Pack kind of pulls back to the llama’s native roots, of what they were originally used for which is packing for hiking,” explained Mayo.

Millie has mastered it all, but only because of the trust and respect she’s earned from Humphrey.

“You have to set the precedent that ‘I am the handler and you are the animal.’ But in that same aspect you want to have a bond between each other so that you both feel comfortable with each other and you have to go over bridges and through obstacles so it may seem scary for the animal but they have enough trust in the handler that they’re willing to do what you ask them,” she said.

Once she graduates high school, Mille is thinking of going after an animal science degree in Texas. Between now and then, she juggles her livestock showmanship with a full academic load at Ralston Valley High School and taking part in school musicals there.

“Sometimes you look at everything you do and you say ‘oh, I have a really full plate’ and it definitely comes across like that,” said Mayo. “But when I’m doing something I really love and am really passionate about, it’s so easy to take all of it on. When you’re enjoying what you do, it doesn’t seem like a lot at all.”

See the JPS-TV version of this story here.
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