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Considerations for Driving Llamas
in the Showring:
Pleasure Driving Class
(unpublished article by Gwen Ingram)
Driving training is a difficult task. Only
in off-lead work does the llama have as much responsibility to
the mutual endeavor. Responsibility requires mental stability,
self-restraint and reliability on the part of the llama. The
human partner needs to be clear in initial instruction and subsequent
activities, and also to be an understanding but firm coach when
the llama is having difficulties remaining on task. One cannot
truly control a driven llama, only make suggestions. Driving
is not for all llamas, nor is driving training for all people.
Very little can top the enjoyment of pleasure
driving down a quiet lane or in a picturesque park -- for both
llama and driver. But actual pleasure driving is very demanding
on a llama. Even a well-structured llama can be hurt by inappropriate
driving practices or equipment. Fortunately, proper driving skills
and the knowledge necessary to preserve a properly structured
llama's pathology are not difficult to learn, and so nearly anyone
can enjoy llama driving.
The showring presents additional, different
demands on the driving llama. To be fair, the driver needs to
understand the llama's perspective:
- To an equine, kept in a stall or small paddock
day in and day out, a stiff workout in an enclosed arena is a
welcome chance to stretch out and do something different. To
a llama, kept at pasture, there is no benefit in continuous circling.
- The concept of "circling" is not
beyond a llama's grasp, but when the "arenas" vary
in size, shape, and adjacent distractions -- such as piled obstacles
for other classes -- the concept is difficult to establish.
- Most llama driving rings, laid out by nondrivers,
are too small. Small circles and sharp turns, necessary in small
spaces, place significant lateral stress on joints.
- A llama has a very limited area of depth
perception accompanied by a wide field of vision. A small and
crowded arena -- sometimes with obstacles lining the edges --
looks like a very chaotic and dangerous place.
- Driving surface makes a tremendous difference
in the amount of effort required for draft. Once the driver tries
pulling a cart him or herself over various surfaces, it becomes
easy to see why fine pleasure driving llamas prefer packed dirt
or asphalt and struggle on softer grass, gravel, and loose dirt.
To present a pleasure driving llama well,
you must prepare him or her for the class itself. Practicing
in empty parking lots provides a similar atmosphere to explain
what is required. A pair of winkers aids some llamas by shutting
out much of the visual confusion in the ring and simultaneously
providing an obvious direction to take. Winkers also help llamas
who are concerned about being followed.
PR training helps a driving llama to ignore
potential distractions. Techniques that associate being in harness
with calmness, development of excellent "brakes," and
learning to stand "ground tied" (for harnessing in
busy showbarns, for mounting and dismounting, and for inspection
in the showring) are basic safety practices.
Finally, to counteract physical stress, practice
sessions that involve ringwork should be followed by an equal
amount of work on a straightaway. Likewise, practice sessions
and pleasure drives should contain a significant amount of work
-- up to half -- at the canter and gallop. Pleasure driving classes
rarely provide such an opportunity, and so locating a suitable
area for a "warmdown" run afterward is very wise.
A significant, artificial handicap is imposed
on the llama and driver in the showring. There are only three
means to communicate with the driven llama: Voice, reins, and
the whip. Voice commands, encouraged in equine driving and a
necessary compliment to the reins, are discouraged in the llama
showring, thanks to association rules written by nondrivers.
Any visible use of the whip -- which provides additional cues
through the locations it touches and also a means to regain wandering
attention (albeit difficult through all that wool) -- risks penalty
from judges, who in our current show association are also mostly
If the driver chooses to acquiese to these
artificial conventions, the driving llama is left with the communication
provided by the reins -- very much inadequate unless the llama
is confident enough to maintain "contact." If the driver
chooses to place safety and the llama's needs first, then it
must also be accepted that many blue ribbons will be awarded
to other turnouts instead.
An unavoidable learning curve spans several
shows while a llama adjusts to this new (and seemingly ridiculous)
environment for driving. Careful preparation and understanding
speeds the transition greatly and helps to produce a calm, safe,
and relaxed driving llama in the showring. Giving up before working
through this phase or, worse still, attempting to train the llama
to drive in the showring before actually teaching the llama to
drive -- on roads and trails -- is a recipe for failure and a
disservice to the reputation of the athletic, capable driving
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