Llama Driving: "It's Not Rocket Science"
by Ron Shinnick
Well, now that the dust has settled, at least somewhat anyway on all the fall llama activities like the shows, packing trips, driving... What can we do now? We could do the usual, just settle in and relax for yet another one of those long cold winters that are full of the same old...
- Shoveling llama beans
- Picking up wet smelly hay
- Working on the Barn
- Fence repair/building
- Putting another log on the fire
- New barn additions
- All of the above
No doubt we are all deserving of some of that R&R this winter, especially after a long year of all that llama stuff. There are, of course, many more worthwhile and interesting alternatives to our good old winter activities.
This leads me to a recent experience our family had. We recently moved. I know, enough said already. But for those of you who have not moved in recent years, don't do it. For llama owners it is even worse. You have two families to move: the people and the llamas. That includes both groups' of stuff. And let me tell you, llamas accumulated as much stuff as the people did in our house. Well in the midst of all this moving, I located some stuff I hadn't seen or read in a long time. One of these items just happened to be an article that Bobra Goldsmith had written many years ago about the rather unique and special qualities that llamas have that make them good to train and drive. This article was written back when the idea of driving llamas was still a new concept to even the general llama community. Just take a look at a few of her observations about why llamas can be and should be excellent driving animals. There is some good that can come from the moving experience.
- " They learn and retain the driving and signals very quickly..... Compared to horses, they are not spooky and do not tend to bolt at the sight of strange objects..."
- "They (llamas) seem to relish driving along new roads, observing the scenery, other animals and whatever."
- "Their forgiving nature."
- "The llama's adaptability, both mentally and physically, also seems to be working in their favor."
Now teaching a llama to drive is not "Rocket Science," shocking as it may seem to some. The truth of the matter is that llamas have some very unique physical and personality characteristics that make the teaching and the learning process far less difficult than some other animals that drive. Now this of course is a general statement, because each llama is different and some llamas make better driving animals than others. Perhaps the key word here is Teaching. For your llama to be successful you have to teach and help your llama learn the skills he'll need to be able to drive. Llamas are smart and have some special qualities but they still need you.
Now how do we get you off that couch and get you started driving? First, get some good equipment. Don't buy junk, even if you see some great deal on E-Bay. There is just no other way to say it. Not all-driving equipment is created equal. Specifically the driving harness. Some just aren't made for a llama and thus will never fit a llama. No matter what you do to them. One of the most common problems you can experience as a beginner is either a harness that just doesn't fit your llama or a harness that is not fitted to your llama. Now that is something you can do something about. Take time to learn how to properly put the harness on your llama and then to adjust it to correctly fit your llama.
Next get a llama cart that is safe. In other words, one that is easy to get into and get out of. Just because they say it is a llama harness or a llama cart does not mean that it is. Phrases like, "it should fit a llama" or "it is about the same size as a llama." Buy from someone who knows and has experience with llama driving equipment. Check with someone who is an experienced llama driver. They are always happy to share what they know and give you a helping hand too.
Next and this is very important, do some research and some studying about the subject. Don't leave this stuff to chance. Remember you are now the teacher. Don't make the mistake of just putting the harness on your llama and think you can instantly start driving. Let me assure you that there are "no shake and bake" driving llamas out there. Learn about training methods, how to hold the reins, putting the harness on correctly, hitching the cart to the llama and the cart, safety and driving techniques, how to give commands, what commands to give, how to turn, how to stop, backing .... Study this stuff before you get started. Ask questions, look at the cart and harness, put the reins in your hands and use them, practice with them as you watch the winter winds blow.
Now for the good part. Ground driving... You may ask what is this thing. This is both the how and the where your llama learns to drive. This is also where you will do your teaching because remember you have studied so hard. Ground driving is when your llama has the harness on and you, with the reins in your hand, walk behind your llama. No cart is necessary at this point. Only you, the harness and your llama. This is where you walk behind your llama and begin to teach him to whoa, turn and walk. This training, depending on how much time you spend with it, takes about 3-4 weeks on average. This is a assuming you are spending about 3 to 4 times per week and about 30 -40 minutes per training session.
Never lose sight of the value and importance of ground driving. The more time spent on this the easier the transition will be for you and your llama to make the next step... The cart and driving. Sometimes we have the urge to move to the cart too quickly. Just wait till your llama is ready and you are ready. Nothing good can come from rushing to jump in the cart for you or your llama.
Well, how does that sound! What an alternative to the same old winter couch hibernating activities we have all grown so accustomed to. And no doubt our llamas will enjoy seeing us out there sharing in some of that good old winter cheer with them. Have fun and let's go get that winter coat. Because you know that llama driving is not...