Pack Animal Magazine

Training Tip: It's Never The Llama's Fault

by Wes Holmquist of the Llama Connection (Spring 2013)

While I’m teaching folks about llama packing I always tell them “You can’t get me to talk about religion or politics, but when it comes to llamas I am a preacher.” I apologize for that in advance. Most of them are thankful for the insights and forgive me for being blunt. While putting on a conformation seminar in Boise, Idaho a few years ago, I had a new llama owner come up to my booth and ask me to help him solve his llama problem. He was telling me about how his llama was stubborn in this way and that way and how he ignored every instruction—he went on and on. Finally, I stopped him and said “There are no stubborn llamas—just stubborn people.” My teenage daughter wanted to crawl under the table with embarrassment at the time, but now that she is a few years older (about twenty years older) she understands what I was doing.

I wasn’t trying to be rude, but I was trying to teach the man that he has to buy into the problem, to own them, and not expect the llama to do so. It wasn’t the llama’s idea to be a pack llama, it was ours. Any time you start saying the llama “is just trying to make my life miserable,” you are getting on the wrong track for solving your problems. The llama has nothing in his agenda about causing you trouble—he or she is just trying to survive by natural instincts. So how can we manipulate their behavior to get our desired result? By recognizing that they each have their own personality and abilities. By working around those, we can be successful.

I don’t know how many times I have had a llama start to tug on his lead or stop, and I have started thinking “why is this llama getting stubborn?” Then I check things over, and find the saddle turning on him or something in his load gouging him. Then I realize (again) that it wasn’t the llama, but the dummy leading him/her who was wrong.

A gentleman told me once that his llama just didn’t want to go up the mountain. I found out later that it was the llama’s first real pack trip, he was out of shape and he was packing eighty pounds up a fairly long climb. This was the owner’s fault for not conditioning him physically and mentally to work. But he wanted to blame the “bad” llama.

We are born in a world where everything is designed around us. We buy a new car, and when we push buttons, everything happens for us. To be successful with llamas, you need to design yourself around them. Let them push your buttons. When you get really good at that, eventually you will wake up and find them revolving around you. But you must do it first.