One of the most unique fun things to do with llamas is driving. Although llamas are not draft animals, 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.
Driving an animal and steering with driving lines is almost a lost art in this modern era of automobiles. For the most part, llama driving is not difficult to learn and even younger children can easily pick up and practice the necessary skills to become a thoroughly proficient teamster.
Choosing a Driving Llama
In the past, gelded male llamas have been the animal of choice to train to drive, but the truth is, female llamas and intact male llamas are just as well suited for driving.
A sound correct llama with a strong top line and pasterns is a must. Special attention should be given to longevity in the bloodlines as hours of intense training will or has been invested in the llama and you will want to have many useful years of enjoyment being able to drive your llama once the basics are mastered.
Since the design and balance of the cart makes it possible for a llama to pull two to three times its own body weight, the size of the llama is really not the most important thing to look for in a driving llama.
Disposition is probably the most important key to a successful driving llama. A llama that likes to move out, one that you do not have to pull along on a hike or pull in and out of the pasture, will eliminate the frustrations experienced by those who inadvertently choose a llama that really does not like nor want to drive.
Llamas that drive well truly love the experience and you can see it by the way they walk. Driving builds a bond of trust and companionship between you and your llama that is unique and special. It also provides an avenue for a llama to satisfy their natural sense of curiosity about the things around them.
For those just starting out, it is advisable to start with a llama that has already been trained to drive. Training at this point is then a matter of reinforcing what has already been established with lots of pleasure driving to keep the llama in top physical condition. A well trained driving llama can help train you to be a great driver before you begin passing those skills on to a novice llama.
Training a Driving Llama
Generally, a llama should be at least 2 years old before being introduced to the driving harness, at least 3 years old before being asked to pull the actual cart and at least 4 years old before doing any heavy driving.
It is extremely important that the llama have a sound basic training program well before you begin to train them to drive. At a minimum, the llama should already be trained to halter easily, lead well, be completely desensitized over their entire body, and know the meaning of a verbal command for walk, stand, and whoa. These training basics can be taught well before the llama is old enough for the harness.
The driving harness has a long history of use in nearly every culture and basically has not changed for hundreds of years. It is important to learn to properly fit the harness to the llama as the driving harness is the centerpiece to your driving equipment and everything else, including the cart, llama, and even you, depends on a properly fitted harness.
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 them to go. With a properly fitted driving halter and harness you walk behind your llama giving cues both verbally and with the driving lines for walk and 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.
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 that you can put through the shaft loops that drags behind the llama. This step saves your very expensive cart from possible newbie llama damage.
When the llama is no longer concerned with the travois and is navigating around with no problems it is time for the actual cart. Many more challenges 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 llama shows.
This is just a brief overview of what is involved with llama driving. There are many books and videos available and driving clinics held throughout the country where you can get hands on fun.