There are various fun things to do with llamas; one of the most unique would be “driving”. Although llamas are not a draft animal they are very capable of pulling a cart. If you don’t mind attention, then showing up to a parade or a park with a llama that drives is for you.
Selecting your driving llama
Many people ask, “how do I pick a llama to train to drive?” Here are just a few brief things when considering a llama for driving.
Disposition is probably the most important key to a successful driving llama. You want to select a llama that has a good “GO button” meaning likes to move out, one that you don’t have to pull along on a hike or pull in and out of the pasture. One that has a pleasant agreeable attitude and preferably one that has been handled, that you can halter and you can pick up all its legs. Geldings and intact males are the most common however some have had great success using female llamas.
Although body type doesn’t play a huge part of my selection, my personal preference of optimum build for a driving llama would be “athletic” meaning a leaner lighter build llama. Many llama drivers have been quite successful with heavier boned bulkier llamas too. Wool fiber length/coverage doesn’t seem to have an effect either way as long as the heavier wooled llamas are sheared in the summer for heat. Color is always a plus just from a visual standpoint. You are going to be investing hours of intense training so selecting a sound correct animal with good conformation and nice strong top line and pasterns is a must.
Starting your Llama
Ground driving is your foundation and the first step to training your llama to drive. Your llama will learn to trust where you are directing him/her to go. Once you have fitted the driving halter and harness properly you walk behind your llama giving cues for walk, whoa and the llama learns the pressure and cues for turning left and right. If you have some friends you can get together with and take turns helping each other start by being “headers” it makes the process go along smoother but it can be done alone. Headers are two people one on each side of the llama with lead ropes attached to the halter rings, when the driver (behind the llama) gives a cue for walk the headers help the llama understand they are suppose to move forward. Many people ask, “how long do you spend ground driving?” well that really depends on the individual llama. Some llamas pick it up remarkably fast others take more time. It also depends on how often you ground drive your llama, some people do it once a month and some (like me) do it 2 or 3 times a week. As the ground driver you will be the one that knows when to move your llama into the travois or cart by how well he/she is taking to the cues.
Once you have a llama that is freely ground driving you are ready for the Travois, a Travois is a “fake cart” usually made of PVC pipe that you can put through the shaft loops that drags behind the llama simulating a cart essentially desensitizing the llama to having something dragging behind them as the cart would. This step also saves your very expensive cart from possible newbie driver damage.
Once the llama is no longer concerned with the Travois and he/she is navigating around with no problems now time for the cart and the real fun begins. Many more challenges may come with a new llama in the cart but with consistent concise training you will have a successful driving llama ready for parades, fun outings or obstacle driving and pleasure driving at shows.
This is just a brief overview of what’s involved in getting into driving a llama, there are many books and videos. One of the favorites is Harness the fun by Jim Logan. There are also Driving clinics held throughout the country where you can get hands on fun.
Barb Brady for Driving Halter/harness http://www.llamahardware.com she also carries other driving products as well as the Videos.
For information about the “Eagle Cart” contact Aaron Knight. His number is 360-201-2776
Caution, driving a llama is addicting. Once you have started one from the ground up you will find yourself looking over your herd for the next victim. It is very rewarding to train your llama yourself. It also gives llamas a unique marketability and job.
“Jorjio” 2004 National Driving Champion