Pack Animal Magazine

Training Tip: Water Crossings

by Cody Bish of Rocky Mountain Llamas (Summer 2013)

Every pack llama should be able to negotiate a stream crossing. It’s one of the first things we teach our young packers when we take them to the hills.

When approaching a small, shallow stream, the inexperienced llama often gets fidgety and wants to leap across. Llamas sometimes have a hard time accurately judging the depth of water. Our job is to teach them to slowly walk through the crossing. As you approach, tighten up your grip on the lead, move your hand close to the halter and walk step by step with the llama through the water. If the llama wants to go fast, stop him and only let him take one step at a time. Once through, turn around and go right back across again until the llama will walk easily through the water.

It helps to have an experienced pack llama in front to go first, and sometimes it’s helpful to have that llama stop in the water so the follower can’t try to rush by.

If the green llama balks approaching the water, keep steady pressure on the lead and release when the llama takes a step. Be diligent, because often there will be a point where the llama will decide to take a big leap. Be able to read your llama and anticipate that so you can pull back and keep his head down so he can’t jump away from you. You want to be in control of their steps so they can’t fly through the crossing.

When packing in the backcountry, large stream crossings are not uncommon and the footbridge, if it exists, may not be wide enough for a llama to safely use. Also, it seems that often the bridge is over a deep or very rocky part of the creek. If it isn’t safe for the llama to cross there, look up or downstream for a more suitable place. Sometimes veteran pack llamas will just cross the creek by themselves. It’s important to make sure the cinches are tight, the topload is secure and balanced and the lead rope is up out of the way before sending the llama over. When you have a less experienced llama, it’s a good idea to attach a stake line or other long rope to the llama’s halter, have another person go on across, toss the end of the line over to them (tying a rock to the end can help get the line over if it’s a wide creek) and that person can guide the llama across.

Water crossings should be no big deal, and a little patience and common sense go a long way in getting everyone across safely.