George will reach the grand old age of twenty-one this month. We first saw him as a fluffy white baby – turned out in one field with all the other youngsters. I had lost my beloved Arab gelding a couple of years earlier. I had no desire to go down the same route, but I missed looking after a large animal living outside. I spotted an article in a daily newspaper about a woman who decided to keep a llama as a pet. She had written a book, which I duly read and they certainly seemed to be what I was looking for. The next problem was where to find one.
I eventually located a wonderful breeder near Ascot and we met up with her at one of the county shows. She was more than willing to provide us with all the advice we needed, so we made an appointment to visit her at home to look at her babies. My horse had always been very intelligent and that was the first thing I noticed about George. Yes… there were little ones in prettier colours maybe, but while they gambolled off together to play llama games, he had heard something that caught his attention. Looking up into the clear blue sky, he slowly watched as a plane flew over. It was this one act that made up my mind there and then. We told the breeder we wanted the plain white one and he was delivered a few days later.
Most llamas will follow without question, but George always wants to know what’s in it for him. Almost impossible to load into a trailer in the first years, I remember having to call on other owners for help in pushing/pulling him into the transport back home. Once we took him for a walk in Ashdown Forest and he was attacked by a group of dogs. His thick coat protected him from harm, but after our walk he simply refused to load. I have no idea why, but I had noted a livery yard not far up the road as we arrived, thinking it might be useful in an emergency. Eventually we had to walk him up there and beg for a stable for one night. The next day we drove down with the trailer and he loaded like an angel. We eventually clicker trained him and he never gave us another problem.
The breeder used to arrange treks in Windsor Great Park and we would take the boys every year. (A few months later we caved in and bought George a companion in the form of a very fluffy caramel coloured boy called Monty). They used to get so excited meeting up with some of their old friends. The walk lasted a few hours and our boys always wanted to be in the lead. We used to tie them under the trees on the hill by the Copper Horse, while they foraged for grass and we had our picnic. The treks stopped a few years ago and I miss them a lot.
Now they are both getting older and for the first time have been a cause for concern. A few weeks ago we had the vet out for them both. Monty’s lips were badly swollen and he was having trouble eating his hard feed. Grass didn’t give him much of a problem, so there was no danger, but we didn’t know the cause of the swelling. Thankfully he gradually improved with the Spring and now he is back to normal. At the same time George seemed to have some form of scab on his elbow, but further investigation revealed an abscess which has now developed into an ulcer. These pressure points have no protection from their thick fluffy coats. Although the boys always have a deep straw bed in the field shelter, there is nothing for them if they choose to lie down outside.
Tonight we start with the saline baths and I wish it was as easy to do as it is to type. Llamas are nowhere near as easy to handle as horses and George is a big boy. The vet is due out for another injection tomorrow and I will talk to them about the elbow protector I found in America. Made to measure, they keep the weight off the damaged area and they are reporting a very high success rate. For the moment he remains bright and happy and the photographs here were taken a few days ago after some new horses were installed in the field next door. May George reign over his kingdom for many years to come.
21st DECEMBER 2015 – Exactly twenty years to the day that we moved George from his old livery yard to our new home, I had to have him put to sleep. He had been looking his age over the past few weeks and although the honey dressings we had been doing for the past four weeks cleaned the ulcer, it was getting bigger. He had also developed one on his stifle and another on his chest and his other elbow wasn’t looking good either. I knew that eventually we would be backed into a corner with this, but I got home at lunch time to find him collapsed on the concrete in front of the field shelter. The vet kindly stayed with me until the lovely man from the pet crematorium arrived.
23rd DECEMBER 2015 – Yes… two days after losing George and also exactly twenty years since we brought Monty home from his breeder, we had to make the unbelievable decision to have him put to sleep as well. We had been concerned about his arthritis for some time and the day after we lost George, we found Monty on the same patch of concrete, unable to get up. My husband managed to drag him in the shelter and shut the gate, but this was the second time in less than ten days and he was on the strongest medication possible. The same man turned up and had brought George’s ashes with him in the Land Rover, but I asked him to keep the boys together. And so it was that we stood in the garden and watched the trailer disappear with both our beloved llamas on board. It was a sunny day and they were going for one last outing together. As I turned around, I spotted a butterfly flitting around in the warm sunshine…