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Kids race llamas in Ecuador’s highlands

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                A child sits on a llama before racing it in Los Llanganates, National Park, Ecuador, on Saturday. Wooly llamas, an animal emblematic of the Andean mountains in South America, become the star for a day each year when Ecuadoreans dress up their prized animals for children to ride them in 500-meter races.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    A child sits on a llama before racing it in Los Llanganates, National Park, Ecuador, on Saturday. Wooly llamas, an animal emblematic of the Andean mountains in South America, become the star for a day each year when Ecuadoreans dress up their prized animals for children to ride them in 500-meter races.

  • A mother embraces her child after he raced his llama at the Llanganates National Park, Ecuador, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020. Wooly llamas, an animal emblematic of the Andean mountains in South America, become the star for a day each year when Ecuadoreans dress up their prized animals for children to ride them in 500-meter races. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

    A mother embraces her child after he raced his llama at the Llanganates National Park, Ecuador, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020. Wooly llamas, an animal emblematic of the Andean mountains in South America, become the star for a day each year when Ecuadoreans dress up their prized animals for children to ride them in 500-meter races. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

  • AASSOCIATED PRESS
                                A woman embraces her son during Llama races at the Llanganates National Park, Ecuador, on Saturday. Wooly llamas, an animal emblematic of the Andean mountains in South America, become the star for a day each year when Ecuadoreans dress up their prized animals for children to ride them in 500-meter races.

    AASSOCIATED PRESS

    A woman embraces her son during Llama races at the Llanganates National Park, Ecuador, on Saturday. Wooly llamas, an animal emblematic of the Andean mountains in South America, become the star for a day each year when Ecuadoreans dress up their prized animals for children to ride them in 500-meter races.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Milena Jami whips her llama to win the first place in the a race for children of ages seven and eight at the Llanganates National Park, Ecuador, on Saturday. Wooly llamas, an animal emblematic of the Andean mountains in South America, become the star for a day each year when Ecuadoreans dress up their prized animals for children to ride them in 500-meter races.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Milena Jami whips her llama to win the first place in the a race for children of ages seven and eight at the Llanganates National Park, Ecuador, on Saturday. Wooly llamas, an animal emblematic of the Andean mountains in South America, become the star for a day each year when Ecuadoreans dress up their prized animals for children to ride them in 500-meter races.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                A girl waits on her llama for the start of a race at the Llanganates National Park, Ecuador on Saturday. Wooly llamas, an animal emblematic of the Andean mountains in South America, become the star for a day each year when Ecuadoreans dress up their prized animals for children to ride them in 500-meter races.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    A girl waits on her llama for the start of a race at the Llanganates National Park, Ecuador on Saturday. Wooly llamas, an animal emblematic of the Andean mountains in South America, become the star for a day each year when Ecuadoreans dress up their prized animals for children to ride them in 500-meter races.

LLANGANATES, Ecuador >> The tiny rider sat — well, was tied — atop the towering steed that would carry him to victory in the annual llama races at Ecuador’s Llanganates National Park.

Wellington Barrera, clad in a wool poncho, sheep-leather pants and a cowboy hat, was the only finisher in his under-3 category, bouncing 1,640 feet to victory.

But two dozen children in other age groups also competed Saturday in an annual event meant to draw attention to the park’s high wetlands and the need to preserve them.

The park, roughly 80 miles east of Quito, is famed for dramatic Andean vistas, and the race took place between the wetlands at altitudes nearing 15,000 feet.

A llama named Rayo McQueen carried 6-year-old Eric Javier Chicaiza to a win in his category. His mother, Fátima Guanotuña, said the animal was a gift to the family when the boy was born, and the two have always been close.

Nine-year-old Ibeth Santafé, three times a winner in past races, was somber after finishing third. But she came out a winner in a llama-training contest, showing mastery over her beast.

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