Llamas are increasingly popular pets and pack animals, leading many to wonder – can you actually ride a llama like a horse? In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about riding llamas.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Yes, llamas can be ridden, but they require specialized training and equipment to be safe and enjoyable riding animals.

In the sections below, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of riding llamas, whether they make good riding animals compared to horses, what equipment is required, how to train a llama for riding, tips for safe and successful llama riding, and more.

We’ll also bust some common myths about riding these fascinating creatures of the Andes Mountains.

The Origins and History of Riding Llamas

Llamas and humans have a long shared history

Llamas and humans go back over 5,000 years. Indigenous people in the Andes mountains of South America first domesticated llamas around 3,000 BC. Since then, llamas provided wool, meat, and pack carrying services to various South American cultures like the Incas.

This intertwined history means llamas and humans have a deep, storied past.

Llamas used as pack animals for centuries in South America

For centuries, llamas acted as pack animals loaded with goods across the Andean mountains. Their sure-footed nature on steep slopes paired wonderfully with their sturdy build to transport up to 70 pounds. Llamas revolutionized trade and communication in ancient Incan civilizations.

Even nowadays, over 5 million llamas work as pack animals across Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina.

Are Llamas Good for Riding? Pros and Cons

Pros of riding llamas

Llamas have several advantages that make them suitable riding animals. Firstly, llamas are generally docile, calm and cooperative creatures. This gentle temperament means they can be easier for novice riders to handle compared to horses or mules.

Additionally, llamas are intelligent and can be readily trained. With proper training and socialization from a young age, llamas take well to carrying riders on their backs. Their high intelligence enables them to learn commands and riding directions quickly.

Llamas are also sure-footed on mountain trails. With their padded feet, they can tread easily over rocky ground while maintaining balance with a rider. This makes llamas ideal for trekking through steep hills and uneven landscapes.

When compared to horses, llamas exert less impact on trails due to their lighter body weight. The average llama weighs between 280-450 lbs compared to over 1,000 lbs for most horses. This makes them more suitable for sensitive environmental areas.

Lastly, llamas do not require large expenditures for care or housing like horses. Their simpler dietary needs and ability to thrive in cooler climates translates to lower costs for those interested in riding llamas as a hobby.

Cons of riding llamas

The main disadvantage of riding llamas is that they have a lower weight tolerance than horses. On average, llamas can only carry about 20-30% of their body weight compared to over 200 lbs for some breeds of riding horses.

This means most llamas can only handle lighter riders, generally under 150-180 lbs. Heavier riders risk injuring the llama’s back over longer distances. Children and lighter teens are best suited for riding llamas.

Llamas also have a natural aversion to dogs thanks to their herd protective instincts. This can make riding problematic if they encounter off-leash dogs on trails, as they may buck, bolt or refuse to proceed.

Additionally, llamas lack a smooth gait for riding. Their pace is slower and ‘choppier’ compared to a horse, which some riders may find uncomfortable over longer periods. Their gaits make them better for shorter scenic rides rather than all-day treks.

Llamas vs. horses for riding

While less common than horses, llamas offer some unique advantages for recreational or adventure riding. Their intelligence, stamina and sure-footedness opens up riding possibilities beyond what most horses can handle.

However, horses have higher weight tolerance, faster speeds and a smoother ride. So for activities like ranch work or competitive events, horses still excel over llama counterparts.

In the end, llama or horse suitability depends on the purpose for riding. Llamas offer light-impact, environmentally sustainable recreational rides through difficult terrain. But for versatility, speed or heavier loads, horses remain preferable for most riders.

Differences Llamas Horses
Riding weight limit 150-180 lbs 200+ lbs
Terrain suitability Excellent – Surefooted on uneven or steep trails Moderate – Higher injury risk on rocks or slopes
Speed & gait Slower pace, choppier stride Smooth and rapid gaits for faster riding
Training time Minimal – Quick learners Extensive – Longer process to prepare for riding
Costs & upkeep Lower expenditures for care & facilities Higher costs for feed, shelter, veterinary needs

Training a Llama for Riding

Start training early for best results

It is highly recommended to start training llamas for riding when they are still young, ideally between 6 months and 2 years old (according to The Pet Enthusiast). Llamas are intelligent animals that are quick learners during their youth.

Early socialization and training will get them accustomed to human handling and equipment like halters, leads and saddles. This forms a solid foundation for when ride training begins later on. Trying to train older untrained llamas can prove challenging and needs to be handled with much more care, patience and expertise.

Important training steps

  • Halter training is the first step – accustom the llama to having a halter and lead put on and following commands
  • Lead training teaches the llama to be led around on a lead rope and obey basic movement commands
  • Desensitizing introduces “scary” stimuli like loud noises, ropes, flags etc. and teaches calm and controlled reactions
  • Saddle training slowly gets the llama used to wearing a saddle with increasing durations
  • Mount training is when the rider first sits on the saddle, then eventually rides the llama for short sessions

Overcoming common training challenges

Llamas are highly intelligent and can pick up on cues quickly, but some specimens may posed challenges during ride training due to their independent nature (Llama Farm Davis). Common issues faced and solutions are:

Challenge Solution
Lack of respect or trust in humans Spend more quality time together through food rewards, grooming etc.
Getting distracted, bolting, disobeying Keep practice sessions short and engaging, use treats, praise and firm consistent commands
Aggression issues like spitting, kicking Identify triggering reasons and avoid them, more groundwork training required

Patience and persistence is key. With proper dedication, forming a cooperative mutually trusting partnership is possible to achieve success.

Llamas Riding Tack and Equipment


When riding a llama, having an appropriately fitted saddle is essential for both the comfort and safety of the llama and rider. Here are some tips for choosing the right llama saddle:

  • Use a specially designed llama saddle rather than a horse saddle. Llamas have a different body shape, so horse saddles often don’t distribute weight properly.
  • Look for a lightweight saddle made of synthetic materials or leather. Llamas can carry about 20-30% of their body weight, so a heavy saddle can be burdensome.
  • Make sure the saddle has a smooth underside to prevent chafing the llama’s back. Padding is useful for shock absorption.
  • Choose a saddle with a shallow seat suited to the llama’s shorter back. It should distribute the rider’s weight over a large area.
  • Consider a saddle with stirrups designed for llama riding to accommodate the rider’s longer legs.
  • Go for a cinch or girth strap that fastens under the llama’s belly for stability and to avoid compressing organs.

With some research and fitting, you can find a well-made, comfortable llama saddle adapted to the build and needs of both rider and llama.

Bridles and Halters

Llamas are typically not ridden with traditional bitted bridles. Here are some suitable headgear options for guiding a llama while riding:

  • Halter: A basic nylon or leather control halter provides excellent steering control. Make sure it fits properly but is not too tight.
  • Bosal: This noseband device derived from hackamores allows neck reining guidance. It avoids bit pressure points.
  • Sidepull: This bridle uses reins attached to rings on both sides of the halter or noseband to control direction.
  • Combination halter: Some double-duty halters convert to bridles with removable reins and bits for more sophisticated signaling.

Proper fitting and conditioning are vital for any headgear to be effective and comfortable for the llama. With the right halter or bosal, neck reining is often sufficient for maneuvering a llama while riding.

Other Essential Gear

Some other useful equipment to have on hand for llama riding includes:

  • Lead rope: Handy for directing the llama from the ground before mounting up.
  • Reins: Essential for steering and giving cues while riding. Have a neck strap or clip to prevent dropping them.
  • Pack saddle: Let’s a second person ride double behind the main rider.
  • Saddlebags: Convenient for carrying water, snacks, first aid, and other supplies.
  • Fly mask: Protects the llama’s eyes and face from insects that may annoy it.

Additionally, the rider needs appropriate footwear with a heel to prevent sliding through stirrups. Gloves provide a good grip on reins. Layered clothing suitable for the climate will maximize comfort during rides.

Taking the time to find well-fitted gear designed specifically for llamas will help ensure a safe, enjoyable ride for both the rider and llama. Their specialized build and needs differ from horses, so specialized equipment makes all the difference.

Tips for Safe and Enjoyable Llama Riding

Always ride with a handler

Having an experienced llama handler present during rides is highly recommended for safety and enjoyment. The handler can help guide the llama, watch for signs of distress, and assist riders. Trying to ride a llama alone as a beginner increases the risk of accidents or issues arising.

Pay attention to llama behavior

Llamas communicate through body language and sounds. Ears pinned back, agitated movements, or loud vocalizations may indicate irritation, fear, or distress. Riders should be attentive and ready to dismount if the llama exhibits concerning behavior.

A handler can help interpret signals and calm an anxious llama.

Consider age and health restrictions

Llamas under 3 years old are generally too young for riding. Senior llamas over 10-15 years old may also be unsuitable. Any underlying health issues like arthritis or back problems may also make riding inadvisable.

Restricting rides for pregnant, injured, or ill llamas reduces chances of exacerbating conditions.

Start slowly and build up duration

It’s important to start llama riding with short sessions of just 5-10 minutes, and slowly work up to longer rides. This allows the llama time to get conditioned and prevents soreness. Rides should be limited to under an hour even for healthy adults.

Trying to do too much too soon can stress llamas’ bodies.

Proper care after rides

Afterward rides, check the llama over for any signs of chafing or soreness where the saddle orpacks sat. Offer extra water, a chance to roll in dust for a “llama bath”, and a small treat. Give them a day or two to rest before the next ride to prevent overexertion.

Proper post-ride care keeps llamas happy and healthy.


Llamas have served as pack animals for thousands of years in South America. With training and the right equipment, they can also make for unique and enjoyable riding companions. While they have some limitations compared to horses, llamas are lower-maintenance and make good pets.

By starting training early, using appropriate tack, and riding safely, you’ll be ready for the quirky challenge of riding your own llama.

We’ve covered the key things you need to know about riding llamas – from their history as riding animals, to the pros and cons, training tips, required gear, and riding safety. With this foundation, you’ll be prepared to decide if a llama can be your next four-legged riding buddy.

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