Just a couple of weeks ago, we concluded the first ever AOA National Fleece Conference. It was a truly amazing event with spectacular speakers. However, I wanted to discuss just one part of the conference; the National Fleece Show. The fleece show contained nearly 550 entries, which was truly awesome! The room was packed full and the three judges (Diana Timmerman, Sharon Loner, and Wini Labrecque) had their work cut out for them.
It made me think back to the judges training clinic, which I had the privilege of attending in early June. I had been intending on going to one of the clinics last year, but with all the merger transition activities going on, I was not able to make it happen. As such, I was excited to be able to make the trip out to Oregon for the clinic this year.
It was a spectacular experience and only reinforces what I already knew about our show system in the United States; it is truly the best in the world. We have the largest and most respected show system and that is in no small part due to the amount of time and effort that have gone into continually updating and improving the show system. The leaders of our industry, the judges over the years, and the volunteers on show committees have done a superb job of ensuring the overall success and consistent relevancy of the show system.
The training clinic was a 3 day long, intensive training that helps judges hone their skills, preparing them for shows in the future. Senior judges Jude Anderson, Jill Macleod, and Wade Gease, along with oral reasons coach, Brett Kaysen, Show System Administrator Margie Ault, and the JTCC put in a tremendous amount of time preparing for the event and then presented information, lead discussions, and challenged the judges all weekend. The clinic is made up of presentations that review information, rules, and other important information, as well as hands on training with alpacas of various levels of quality to ensure the judges have an opportunity to challenge themselves by identifying issues.
They then spend a good deal of time judging alpacas in groups and presenting oral reasons. I imagine this to be a very challenging task and certainly is something that I would not look forward to myself. Presenting oral reasons in a show is hard enough, but imagine having to do it in front of your peers, a trainer, the Show System Administrator, JTCC members, and the Executive Director! It has to be incredibly intimidating. And that’s not all! They also have to do it in front of a video camera and are required to watch it later to review their oral reasons and discuss areas they did well in and areas that they could work on in the future.
I am so appreciative of all the judges. These are long days and have to be intense at times, and they each were very professional and worked with each other, making suggestions and helping one another. These clinics are required to stay certified, but many judges try to attend even when they don’t need the clinics for their current certification. They attend because they know it helps them, and helps the industry. While the clinics certainly require a large investment from AOA, each judge also has to pay a fee to attend. That’s minor compared to the fact they are also responsible for their travel costs, hotel costs, and other expenses on their trip. Considering many of these judges come from far away, that is quite an investment that they are making in the industry. I truly appreciate all that they do.
I also want to take a moment to thank Jude Anderson and Alan Cousill, who allowed us to hold the clinic on their farm. It is an incredible undertaking to allow this many people to come onto your property, and I am very appreciative. We also had the benefit of numerous volunteers from the area and the JTCC who came to handle animals, participate in parts of the process, and generally help out wherever they could. Lastly, it also took several farms to provide alpacas for the event. As you can imagine, it requires quite a lot of alpacas to make this an effective clinic. Thank you to everyone who helped and participated, I really appreciate your dedication to the success of AOA and the industry.
I encourage everyone in the industry to thank a judge. The next time you see them at a show, event, or even on their farm, go up to them and say “Thank you for your dedication to the success of the industry.” These are incredibly caring people who really work hard to ensure that shows are successful and that you learn from them when you show in front of them. They put in a lot of time and resources to ensure that they are able to do this. So whether they are a fleece judge or halter judge, take some time and tell them how much you appreciate them, because they are the reason that we continue to have the largest and most respected alpaca show system in the world.