Llama Driving Harnesses
Driving harnesses need to be comfortable,
functional, and safe both in use and by resisting wear. Llamas
have several significant anatomical differences from horses.
Thus, a llama driving harness requires modification from the
equine design to meet these basic goals. Gwen's harness is believed
to be the first designed specifically for a llama's anatomy,
although it has never been commercially available. What follows
is a summary of the most important modifications she has developed
and incorporated in our driving harnesses over a period of thirteen
Cart design, harness adjustment, and the driver's
balance all combine to affect the actual weight borne by the
llama's driving saddle (for two-wheeled vehicles only). The goal
is to have no more than five pounds on the llama's back when
standing still, and preferrably less. When cantering, stopping,
or on sloping ground, the saddle-borne weight increases dramatically.
Design can and should minimize the amount of weight borne by
the llama, spread that weight over the largest practical area
(without restriction), and absorb the shock of weight increases
Gwen's design now incorporates two thin plywood
panels to distribute weight across highly shock-absorbant 2"
rebond foam for a total primary contact area of 38 square inches,
and an additional 12 square inches of auxiliary (gradually decreasing)
support for stability and comfort. Even at increased concussion
levels, the llama experiences less than one pound of pressure
per square inch. The saddle foam is shaped to fit comfortably
behind the llama's shoulder without encroaching on the shoulder
muscles, and also in front of the increased "spring"
of the main rib cage, eliminating the need for a rear cinch,
which can be either potentially restrictive or nonfunctional
at gaits other than the walk.
The saddle design incorporates a fixed
angle steel or aluminum arch to achieve stability when pressure
becomes unequal during turns, when negotiating uneven ground,
or through certain obstacles. The metal arch also ensures
spinal clearance. The steel or aluminum can be gently bent
to fit wider llamas, but repeated rebending is not recommended
(because driving is very strenuous, immaturity and obesity should
be addressed and resolved prior to harness fitting).
The metal arch also provides a stable mounting
surface for the extended terrets. These extended terrets
allow the reins to proceed in a straight line from llama to driver,
and combine the increased control and cue precision of terrets
with the proper rein positioning previously achievable only without
use of terrets. Standard terrets that follow equine design allow
rein pressure during initial training (or whenever the llama
is disobediant) to place unnatural downward and rearward force
on the llama's neck, thereby confusing the llama and encouraging
habits that eventually damage the neck and back. The terrets
are removeable for handler safety and to avoid damage when the
llama is first introduced to the cart.
There are two types of driving collars: the
familiar neck collar used by equines who must move heavy
loads, and the more common breast collar seen on many
pleasure driving harnesses for both horses and llamas. The obvious
advantage of the breast collar (and the reason for its popularity)
is that one collar will fit many different animals with only
minor adjustments. A neck collar must be very carefully fitted
to the individual animal--and refitted in the event of increased
or decreased weight -- to prevent painful chafing and brusing,
both of which are obvious on an equine but are hidden by a llama's
wool. Any collar, regardless of type, transfers the full weight
of cart and driver to the llama, along with any resistance caused
by the driving surface.
The breast collar can be fitted comfortably only in the area below the llama's trachea (windpipe)
and above the points of the shoulders. Some misinformed people
have confused the point of the sternum with the llama's trachea
and believe that this is not possible. However, anyone who has
been present at a necropsy (we both have) can attest that this
is a myth.
In Gwen's design, a single strap over the
llama's neck in front of the withers supports the breast collar
in the correct position; a pair of diagonal straps from near
the collar center to the saddle assist in positioning and also
in stabilizing both the collar and saddle on the llama. The traces,
which are attached to the cart and actually allow the llama to
pull the vehicle, are positioned directly in line with the breast
collar and thus, when pressure is applied, serve as the final
link in positioning the collar without applying pressure to the
saddle and girth as do some poorly thought-out designs.
The traces are of heavy 1" nylon for
strength. Instead of the usual splits (which are, with nylon,
subject to significant fraying), snap hooks attach the traces
to the swingletree. On the collar end, the traces are attached
with heavy duty 1" side release buckles for fast emergency
The crupper serves two functions: to
act as the final link in stabilizing the saddle, and to provide
a reliably centered place to suspend the breeching. The crupper
backstrap can and should be adjusted to be snug, yet receive
minimal pressure. However, the fit of the crupper is completely
independent of the breeching, and thus the llama's tail and spine
remain safe from excessive or sudden pressure.
The breeching functions only when the
motion of the cart must be slowed (such as when stopping or when
traveling downhill) or when backing up. A llama's hind legs are
very mobile when driving, and so the breeching must be both
flexible and nonabrasive, and must adjust to the highest
comfortable position that is also below the points of the buttocks.
A thin (1") breeching allows positioning above the testicles
of intact males to maximize movement and also to better facilitate
slowing and backing. This breeching (1" smooth, heavy nylon)
was selected as the best compromise between strength and nonabrasion.
Although padding the breeching would increase comfort during
use, Dusty found that padding unfortunately stiffens the breeching
too much and makes it restrictive during normal driving.
The breeching is suspended from the backstrap
by a pair of forked carriers on the sides of the hauches. It
attaches to the cart with a pair of snap hooks for convenience
and speed. The breeching straps can be lengthened to allow the
driver to wrap them around the shafts and then attach them back
to the breeching itself if desired. The entire breeching and
crupper assembly can be quickly released in an emergency
by unclipping a single snap hook at the rear of the saddle.
The reins are of very light, 1/2"
or 5/8" medium-weight nylon web. This light weight adds
to comfort without sacrificing strength, and also allows lighter
cues. Gwen has incorporated optional hand loops. These do limit
the driver's control in some circumstances, but are necessary
for her to compensate for difficulty holding the reins because
of occasional flareups of tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome.
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