Llama walking is a strange art. You can read loads about the principles in books and on the web. However, there seems to be no real substitute for trying to be ‘in tune’ with your own llamas.
When you are out with a single llama, this is much easier than when you have a group. The lone llama and you form a pair – and to walk successfully you must communicate with each other. I find this means I must watch and listen to the llama, and I also speak to him/her. As a result, I often go for quite long walks without seeing very much of the landscape. I tend to scan the area ahead, trying to anticipate anything that might alarm the llama.
Then I spend a lot of time actually looking at the llama, watching where they are watching, and taking note of how they are holding their ears. I’m really not sure that their hearing is very acute (and I have sometimes had to make quite a lot of noise to attract their attention from 40 or 50 metres) but if their ears are forward and erect it’s a good sign that the walk is stimulating without being frightening!
Their eyesight is certainly pretty good – and if they are staring into the distance, you can almost always spot something of significance if you look carefully in the same direction. Of course, ‘significant’ to a llama is not the same as to a human, and it sometimes takes a bit of working out to decide what it is that’s holding their attention.
Llamas are generally very cooperative. The lead is there mostly as a guide – and generally is not used to restrain the animal. There are, of course, times when the llama tries to pull away – almost invariably when they are scared. You know you are succeeding in keeping your llama calm, and in communicating with them, when you can walk along with the lead hanging down in a slack curve between you and the llama. Adam shows this well with Valentine, who tends to be rather over-enthusiastic when walking. We are still working on getting him to stay in the correct position that Adam has achieved here (i.e. head alongside the leader, with body behind).
Of course, things get more complicated when you walk llamas in a group. Over the last week, we’ve had a chance to practice this as Claire and Adam have provided two extra pairs of (very capable) hands.
We had previously been walking no more than two llamas at once. As Ana is the least experienced, we’ve tended to take her out with either Duc or Valentine. And, because Ana is the youngest, and lowest status, she has always been following her older companion
Now we’ve had a chance to experiment with different combinations of people and llamas. And among other things, we’ve learned:
- Duc doesn’t like having people walking behind him. Presumably, he finds it hard to keep an eye on where the possible threat might be?
- Despite this, Duc – as the most ‘senior’ of the three – likes to lead when there are other llamas out walking. This might explain why he was rather a handful at first when he was being led by Pete the other week.
Get it right, and it all goes very smoothly