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Although llamas are not used as driving animals in their native South America they can be trained to pull a cart. In the US, Canada and Australia there are many cart llamas and carting is a very popular pastime for llama owners. There are llama carting classes at many shows and cart llama owners organise regional driving get togethers or drive-ins!

In the UK several llama owners have tried carting in the past; Mary Pryse of Catanger Llamas, Pam Walker of Maplehurst Llamas and the late Chris Goodwin. They all successfully trained llamas to drive. At present Terry Crowfoot and Michelle Huxley-Campbell-Dye are the only llama drivers known in the UK but other members of BLS are taking an active interest and are in the early stages of llama training. Unlike horse driving which is very noisy with steel shod hooves on the tarmac, llama driving is quiet and peaceful with the llama’s soft pads and the cart’s rubber wheels making little noise allowing the driver and any passengers to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of the British countryside.

So what sort of carts can a llama pull and ho
w do you train a llama to pull it?

Llamas are surprisingly tough and can easily pull a 50kg cart with 2 adults on board for many miles, and not just on the level. They can walk, trot and canter between the shafts and reach speeds of nearly 20mph for short spells. Most llama carts are lightweight 2 wheeled steel framed carts but 4 wheel carts can also be drawn. Terry uses a small pony cart which she found on e-bay, new and imported from China! It has proved to be ideal.

Specially designed llama carts can be purchased in the USA but the shipping costs can be prohibitive. Terry’s cart is shown in some of the photographs and is called an “easy entry” cart since you can slide into the seat without climbing over anything. Of course it really should be called the “easy exit” cart since you can also bail out quickly if anything should go wrong!! Michele has a similar cart but she had this designed and made especially for her and her llama, Chillie, in Wales.

While most llama driving is as a single, pairs driving is also possible and the world record is over 50 llamas in harness!

The harness used is very much like a pony harness but usually with a breast strap round the llama’s chest rather than a full collar as is used for most horses. However the Flaming Star harness made by Barb Brady of Llama Hardware in Washington State USA is an exception where buckle on collars are used round the lower neck and shoulder of the llama (especially useful for pairs driving). Terry has recently started to use this harness and is well pleased with the fit. (Barb Brady also proved to a fount of knowledge on driving and the pre and after sales support was excellent!) However the main difference between a horse and llama harness is in the halter since a llama’s mouth is unsuited to a bit. After much experimentation in the US the Logan halter which has a padded steel strip in a v-shape over the nose has proved to be a very workable solution used now by many llama drivers. The steel strip is bent and shaped to suit the profile of the llama’s nose and gives a good feel for the reins which are attached to the steel strip at each side.

Selecting a llama is important since, as with any animal (or human for that matter!), not all will be suited to every task. The best driving llamas are ones that are bold, do not mind leaving the herd and are perhaps the ones that do not like you so much, good because they are constantly going to be moving away from you! Both male and female llamas can be used, and full males can make excellent driving animals. Attitude is also more important than size. As with a horse the early stages are long reining with a helper, long reining with a travois to get the llama accustomed to pulling something behind them that makes a noise, and finally putting the llama into the cart.

It can be a slow process. Terry reports that it took her about a year to feel comfortable that Mary-Ann was safe and competent on the road; and this after training sessions of an hour or so several times a week. Michele has had much the same experience. Because there is no bit much of the communication with the llama is by voice commands, wow, walk-on, trot etc augmented by pressure and small tugs on the reins. If the llama is to be driven on the road then it is also important to get the llama used to traffic and this is best started early in the training on a lead rope. Road traffic is usually very responsive and drivers will slow down and pass with care. The main problem is usually with the drivers who are steering with their knees while they take pictures of the cart llama with their mobile phones! Clearly it is best not to take the llama onto unduly busy or fast roads; quiet country lanes are ideal and in general llamas are far more tolerant of cars, dogs and dustbins than horses, and are much less likely to spook.

Terry hosted a BLS driving day in August 2008 with 15 BLS members and friends attending. Despite strong winds and heavy rain the group managed to learn a lot from talks and demonstrations and enjoy a few minutes in the llama cart in the Forest of Bere.

Finally, that world record of 56 llamas in harness to a single cart! This record was set in 1992 by Floyd Zopfi in Wisconsin USA. THe picture here shows one view of the event. Clearly we in the UK have a way to go just now! Llama driving is great fun and yet another way to enjoy your llamas. If you want to learn more, e-mail Terry Crowfoot, the BLD llama driving contact on terrycrowfoot@btinternet.com.