WHAT ABOUT HALTERS?
by Melinda Van Bossuyt
The halter is a wardrobe essential for any llama venturing outside of the home pasture or stall. A lead rope is attached to the ring at the chin of the halter so that the llama may be led around. This gives the handler a certain amount of control and provides a level of safety for both the handler and the llama.
Most people use halters on their llamas while performing veterinary procedures, grooming, shearing, nail trimming, saddling, loading in trailers, showing, and hiking. Occasionally, some llama owners may dispense with the halter when doing some things with certain llamas. For instance, at our farm we can trim the nails of some llamas while standing free in the stall. For most people and llamas, this probably is the exception rather than the rule.
In the Andes, llamas are herded along without halters or lead ropes. My husband and I tried that on a couple of occasions while packing with our llamas. One of our llamas happily followed along like a puppy dog. Unfortunately, he was obnoxiously friendly with every hiker we met. And when hiking dogs came along, we saw the potential for disaster. Another of our llamas was glorious in his freedom to make his way down the trail on his own. Too bad he couldn't stay focused on the trail. He decided to choose his own route and ended up stranded on a precipitous ledge. We had to go get him. Most importantly, on any trail where there is the possibility of meeting other livestock, a responsible llama handler must have instant control over his llama. Therefore, halters are necessary.
I am sorry to say that some humans abuse the use of halters. This abuse usually stems from ignorance. Every year I hear of llamas injured by a halter, and I personally see at least one. The story most often goes like this. Llama comes to the farm for breeding. We remove the halter when moving the animal into her new quarters. Halter has grown into the nose. We find out that her owners left the halter on all the time. She grew, or the halter shrank. The halter tightened around the muzzle until it made a dent in the nose. The tissue swelled from the irritation. A sore developed.
Most folks bring home their llamas with halters already installed. Some new llama owners do not take off the halters for fear of not being able to catch the wearers ever again. This sets the stage for a painful and abusive injury.
No llama should be made to wear a halter continuously day in and day out. Halters only should be used when needed for working with the llama. And when wearing a halter, the llama should be supervised. A llama that wears its halter in the pasture night and day on a routine basis is not getting enough supervision to prevent possible entanglement with a fence or vegetation.
Fitting a Halter
Do you wear glasses? How does it feel when those glasses are out of adjustment or don't fit correctly? You may develop sores behind your ears. The bridge of your nose gets rubbed. That is the best comparison I can think of for us humans to understand what it must be like to wear a halter. If you took TTEAM training, you probably experienced wearing a halter and being led around. Try this in the privacy of your own home to appreciate what your llamas are experiencing.
Halters bought "off the rack" may or may not fit a particular llama. Even when a make or brand of halters comes in five sizes, there may not be a size that fits your llama. It is the same with people's clothing and shoes. Some people have short legs. Some people are long-waisted. Some people are fat. Some people are broad across the shoulders. Perhaps the placement of the arch in a pair of Nikes is perfect for you. Your friend can't wear Nikes because the arch is all wrong for her.
Poorly fitted halters add insult to injury. A properly fitted halter can be worn for days without any effect. So how do we fit a halter to a llama? What is the secret? Before fitting a halter to a llama it is important to understand the parts of a halter and how these parts affect the fit.
There are many possible adjustments to a halter. The nose band (the part that goes around the entire muzzle) can be sewn to a certain size or may have a buckle for adjustment. The crown (the part that fastens around the back of the head) pulls the nose band up the muzzle toward the eyes. The cheek pieces fasten from the nose band to the crown. I've found the angle, placement, and length of the cheek pieces to be critical to a good fit. The throat is the chin strap that connects nose band, crown, and cheek pieces in a triangle. I've found that a crown that slips down all the time indicates that shorter and perhaps higher placed cheek pieces are in order. A nose band that slips down over the nose may require shorter cheek pieces and an adjustment in the throat.
The nose band should be loose enough to fit two fingers underneath. The cheek pieces should not be so high that they get into the eyes. The crown should ride high on the back of the head just behind the ears.
My search for the perfect halters for my llamas has led me to buy a variety of makes and models of halters. Seldom are these purchases satisfactory. I've bought halters with very heavy hardware. Llamas don't need heavy hardware. It must be uncomfortable to wear this stuff. I've bought halters with buckles that were difficult to operate. Who wants to prolong the act of haltering a llama by fighting with a buckle? I've bought a lot of halters that simply are poor fits. I sometimes use these halters for short duration maintenance activities when a perfectly fitting halter is desirable but not critical such as when nail trimming, weighing, and giving shots.
One of my llamas was particularly difficult to fit. Years ago I bought Charlie a pony halter at the feed store. It was a great fit for him. He has an enormous head. No llama halter made fits him. I've tried them all. The pony halter began to wear out after some years and I started to search for another one just like it. I carried that halter to the feed store and found out it was no longer manufactured. Then I called Nancy Chlarson at Quality Llama Products and asked if the halter could be duplicated. The answer was yes. The halter went off in the mail with instructions to duplicate measurements exactly and to reduce the weight of the hardware if possible. (Horse stuff always seems to have heavy hardware.) A short time later, Charlie's old and new halters arrived in the mail. The new halter was better than the original. Since then, I've had a dress-up halter made for Charlie with a few more modifications for improved fit.
Another of my llamas, Ranger, had troubles with the crown falling down the back of his neck. I had tried every kind of halter on him over the years. With Nancy's help and several tries, a halter was made for Ranger that works perfectly. I found out that this halter, a modification of Quality Llama Products Standard Llama Halter - size L, fits most of my llamas better than the regular "off the rack" halter. I've had many of these halters made. Nancy keeps the measurements of my special halters so I can order more when I need them.
When Long-term Wear is Necessary
When a llama is working, it needs to wear a halter. Otherwise, the halter should be removed. Most llamas seldom need to wear a halter overnight. Even PR llamas go home at the end of the day, hang up their halters, and head out to the pasture. Llamas that need to wear their halters over a prolonged period may include llamas on the show circuit, llamas going to auctions, and llamas on a pack trip. It is imperative that these llamas have well-fitted halters.
My pack llamas sometimes wear their halters for as many as two weeks straight. I always leave them on during transport to the trail head in case of emergency evacuation. And you simply cannot take a halter off while out on the trail. Well, you could, but the consequences might be unacceptable. I make sure that my packers have halters that allow ample room for chewing. Two fingers under the nose band might not be enough for two weeks of grazing. Any kind of slippage cannot be tolerated. The nose band must stay in place. The crown must not fall down the neck.
There cannot be any rough edges on the halter that touch the llama's face. Cut edges of nylon webbing can be sharp once the nylon is melted to prevent fraying. A comfortable halter has the rough edge seams on the outside of the halter away from the face. I don't want my llamas to have to wear a lot of heavy hardware on their faces. Heavy hardware simply isn't necessary. For this reason I prefer a halter without an adjustable nose band. This is not a problem since each of my packers has his own personally fitted halter. I've never had a halter fail. In fact, the nylon that most halters are made of probably is stronger than most halter hardware.
With properly fitted halters, none of my pack llamas has experienced sores or developed halter problems while out on the trail. That is my ultimate goal.
Halter Do's and Don'ts
Good luck in your pursuit of the perfect halter. Make sure that it is perfect for the llama you have in mind. Your llama will thank you.
Hit the trail!
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