We are carting now!
By: Eileen Ditsler
The place is Indio Date Festival at the Riverside County Fair. The event is Open Pleasure Driving during the ALSA llama show. There is lots of tension in the air as 11 cart llamas and drivers harness up and make their way to the main arena. Yes, I said eleven. Not a single driver chickened out either! I was very excited since most of these people embarked on their driving careers in the aftermath of an article I wrote a year ago.
In one short year, all these people have purchased carts and put in many patient hours of work with their llamas to teach them to pull the carts. Now, that’s dedication.
And here we all are, bunched up at the in gate, nervously chatting with each other about our strategies and praying our llamas will move. Our fearless judge gives us our instructions and the gate is opened. One by one the llamas begin to enter and circle the arena. All these llamas are very green and being the social beasts they are, we end up with a large group of them bunched together and jockeying for position. My llama, Chill Out, voted as the veteran of the group since this would be his 3rd trip in a Pleasure Driving class, took the poll position. He tries to be a brave leader but there is only so much courage in a little llama.
Our arena is plenty big –heck they use it for the ostrich and camel races during the day. Ostrich and camels you say? Yes, along with the accompanying dung. The llamas just know those ostriches are hiding somewhere and are going to jump out at them at any minute. They definitely believe there is safety in numbers.
Around we go, then it is time to change directions. It’s a little hard to change directions when all the grooms and judges are standing in the middle of the arena. But I don’t think anyone was knocked over. Then another lap and then the line up.
Whew! Finally, a moment to breathe and to cast a steely eye at our fellow competitors. “Who screwed up the least?” each of us wonders, because none of us are yet very polished in our driving skills.
The line up for the judge ends up being the most nerve wracking part since again all these green llamas either didn’t want to stand still or then won’t back when the time comes for the judge to inspect your turnout. And eleven turnouts take a long time to inspect.
But still there were shining moments! Several llamas did back and stand quietly, most of the llamas did change pace at the rail, and by golly didn’t we all look so impressive out there. Did I mention there were eleven carts?
Then as we each are called out for our placing I begin to wonder—will I still be able to encourage all these people to continue doing show driving? I think yes because I have up my sleeve the juiciest lure of all—obstacle driving at the Moonlight Madness show!
After our class I think we could have sold 10 carts to our fellow exhibitors! One enterprising gentleman in our club has begun to take orders for llama carts he is making. I think he did a slam bang business that day.
Look out for us! We are on a roll! Hee hee hee.
So you think you want to join all the fun we are having? It really is easy to start but hard to stop because it is so addictive. I highly recommend Jim Logan’s driving halter to do all your training and driving. Jim has a great video to help you get going if you are unable to attend a driving clinic with Niki Kuklenski. Niki, by the way, is the absolute best!
Practice, practice, practice. Don’t try to rush your llama. Llamas are very smart, but still make sure they understand the basics like walk, trot, and whoa. Be sure to keep it interesting—change locations where you are ground driving. Llamas like to see new scenery, too. Driving around other carting llamas really speeds up the llama’s acceptance of the whole idea. They really appreciate seeing another llama doing the same thing. And it will help when you decide you are ready to try a pleasure driving class—your llama will be accustomed to doing his thing around others.
Driving in an arena is something not all llamas are willing to do. They are so smart, and they can’t see the sense. I have found that if they are well conditioned it is easier to get them to move in an arena. The arenas I have around me tend to be manicured for horses and have deep sand or very soft surfaces. It gets old (and tiring) fast when they have to work extra hard just to go in circles. If you don’t have a good hard surfaced arena to use, make up a pattern at home. I live on a cul-de-sac and use the street as an arena. It was also great to get my llama used to going past the house. The llamas are very quick to figure out in the show ring where the gate is, and being able to get them to go past it will be another obstacle you’ll encounter in the show ring. If you have an open field you could even create an arena with markers at the corners.
So once you are feeling confident in your llama’s talents, go ahead—try a driving class. If nothing else, you will learn what you and your llama need to work on.
I’ll keep you posted on the group here in Southern California. It’ll be a gas at our show this summer having obstacle driving. I can’t wait. It will be a new challenge. Hmmm…. I wonder what deviousness I can conjure up next!
Keep driving—anywhere and everywhere!
Norma Stevens (760) 751-2603