Llama Driving in Reverse
by Ron Shinnick
While some of us may be just struggling with the forward gear with our driving llamas, the opposite direction or going in reverse can be just as important for a driving llama to learn and master.
This is not only a critical element reserved for competitive or show driving but also when you're just leisurely driving out in the public.
In fact, sometimes training or teaching a llama to back can be tricky. This is not really a natural movement for a llama especially when the cart is added into the mix. Three key things seem to be important prerequisites for a llama to have before learning or attempting to learn to back. These three things are trust, experience with pulling the cart and confidence in the person holding the reins and giving the commands.
- Trust: First of all, backing is not a skill that you would normally want to teach a beginning-driving llama. Llamas first have to learn the basics of stopping, going and turning. Learning to drive is a progression of skills that builds on the previous lesson. Once these basic skills are mastered a llama can then begin to tackle the more advanced skills like backing. The bond of trust between a llama and a driver is also developed and nurtured as a llama progresses through these early lessons and training sessions.
- Experience: Very few llamas have the ability or the willingness to learn backing when they first start driving. It will always vary of course with each llama as to how quickly they will progress to a point where they will feel comfortable enough with backing. This is only accomplished by lots of practice and a consistent training schedule. This means for you and I more than a once a week training session.
- Confidence: It is vital that a llama have confidence in the person holding the reins and driving. The confidence developed between llama and driver will give the llama a feeling of trust (see #1) and reassurance in whatever the driver may ask him to do. Backing is a skill where a llama must know that he can trust the driver not to back him into something he can't get himself out of.
First of all, when teaching anything always try to break it down into its simplest and easiest form. Often in our training we find ourselves trying to skip things so we can hurry and get to wherever we want to be or think we ought to be. We sometimes leap frog, so to speak, from one thing to the next and thus, miss the important stuff. Don't... Always keep it simple to start with.
In this case, since we are talking about llama driving in reverse or backing, where would be a good place to start our training? Remember to keep it simple by breaking your training down into simple or easy steps to start with and then add and build the more difficult parts of your training into your program as your llama learns these easier steps. In this case, the first thing I would teach my llama, if he doesn't know it already, is how to back.
At this point there is really no need for the cart or even the harness. But you also want to begin at this point to incorporate or blend in some of the basic principles of driving. For example, prior to giving the command to back call your llama by name to get his/her attention, then give the command to "back." This will accomplish two things. One, your llama will learn what the verbal command is for reverse, BACK. Second, you will begin to build a bond of trust and confidence as a result of your working together that will be beneficial to you and your llama later in your driving and training sessions. It is also important that he learns that when his name is used most likely, a command of some sort will follow.
The next step would be to practice these skills with all the driving equipment on the llama. This can be accomplished in two ways. You'll have to determine for yourself what is the most appropriate way for your own llama. One method would be by working with your llama in the harness with out a cart. This could be part of your ground driving work. (Picture) Once you feel comfortable you have made adequate progress with using the harness you could then hitch the cart up and work your llama in the cart.
The other method would be to work your llama with all the driving gear on including the cart. Again, you could also try two methods with this. First, work your llama by holding the reins and standing behind the cart. This will give you a little more control and the opportunity to provide any needed assistance or correction. (picture). The other method of course is to get in the cart and get to work. Remember in all cases, proper technique and being consistent with your training are essential.
Other things that may be helpful and that will assist you with your training are using bales of hay or those stock panels that are gathering dust somewhere in your barn or garage. At last! Those stock panels do have a purpose and a meaningful use. Sometimes when you're just standing there with your driving llama and you ask him to back perhaps you have noticed like I have that your llama is thinking why are we doing this. "It would be just as easy to go forward or turn to the left or right rather than backing." So why not take those panels or hay bales and make a three sided stall. Then drive your llama straight into the u-shaped area. Then ask him to back out. His only choice of course is to back out (or go over, lets hope not!). Once he has successfully mastered driving in and backing out, next work on backing in and driving out. And then finally, the last thing is to remove the panels, hay bales or whatever you're using and back without the obstacles. This may help your llama have a clearer understanding of what you are asking him to do. It also, as we discussed earlier, keeps it simple and breaks it down into easier to understand steps.
Well, these are just a few helpful hints and thoughts on llama driving in reverse. Sometimes some llamas just take longer to catch on to this than others. Be patient and don't give up. If you think people are awed by a llama going forward wait till they see one back up. Be careful, have fun and as always......Enjoy The Ride!