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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 years.



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 and shifts.

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 release.

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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