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meeting llamas on the pacific crest trail

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meeting llamas on the pacific crest trail

Postby Ed Anderson » Sat Oct 30, 2010 4:46 pm

It happened to us. My horse, Primo, and I came around a bend on the PCT in Washington and there they were. Three llamas. They were heading south while I was riding north. They were about 125' away. The trail at that point, fortunately, was essentially level and contoured around a broad slope of about 15 degrees. Primo stopped, ears forward, very alert, staring at them. I immediately dismounted and extended the reins to become a long lead rope. The hikers with the llamas had also stopped. They were courteous and did the right thing. They began to lead the three white llamas off the trail and up the slope (at that spot it would have been too steep down slope) so that we would be able to pass. That did it! Now Primo now had a SIDE view of what, to him, might have looked like three very exotic looking horse-eating predators, or, possibly, angry stallions ready to fight. His attention immediately accelerated into RED ALERT. He went ballistic! He started snorting very loud and then tried to flee. He ran around me in circles, knocked me down, pulled me over, and then, in a panic, broke loose from my grip on the extended reins. He ran cross country up the slope, through small boulders and brush, at a full gallop and into trees about 300' above the trail. I followed. He was nowhere to be seen when I reached the trees and there were cliffs beyond them. So I descended back to the PCT to a point from where we had come several hundred yards further south. There I found his tracks heading south. I had no idea at that time how far he would run. Luckily, I had my knapsack on with my sleeping bag and what I would need to survive the night if I couldn't find him. I continued south, now jogging, and found his reins laying on the trail. Fortunately, he had stepped on them there, and broke the snap, rather than doing it somewhere up on the slope where they would be hard, or impossible, to find. I picked them up and continued. In another mile I was relieved to hear Primo whinny to me from high up on the slope. He wanted to rejoin with me as I had been his companion on the trail for months. I had been the other horse. I climbed up, reattached the reins and tied him higher up the slope and well out of sight of the trail. The llamas were led past out of his sight. The incident was over and we were lucky that neither of us was injured. Primo might have broken a leg during his 300 foot cross-country panic gallop up the slope. This was a very close call and could have been life threatening had the slope been steeper and if I had not had time to dismount safely before he panicked.

I would like to state that Primo is a horse who does not spook easily. During the previous nearly five months and about 2000 miles, he had seen pretty much everything that the PCT had to offer. He had even already seen llamas. He saw them very close up but from behind only. This was at a dirt road crossing on Section P in Northern California. We saw two llamas tied to the side of a horse trailer. They were about 100 feet away and the owner was there. I remained mounted. We exchanged "hellos", and talked. I saw this as an opportunity to introduce Primo to llamas. While we talked I gradually, remaining mounted, workd him forward. Primo was in alert mode, ears forward, staring at the llamas. He didn't spook. It took about five minutes to gradually reach the back of the llamas. Finally Primo reached them and extended his nose to smell them. His nose caame close to touching the back of a llama above the tail. I thought that the llamas were also concerned at just what was going on. After that first encounter, I decided that since Primo had seen and even smelled llamas, he would be OK if he saw them again. I was SO wrong. Primo had seen bears, mountain lions, wild turkeys, deer, elk, rattlesnakes, cattle, pigs, wild cats, aggressive dogs, hikers with very high packs, bicycles, motorcycles, trains, waving flags, windmills, moving windmill shadows across the trail, the shiny silver umbrellas that some PCT hikers use to keep off the desert sun, etc. Of course, some of trese caused him concernand got his attention - but he never even did a big spook. The SIDE VIEW of the llamas in Washington caused an entirely different reaction. It caused panic and triggered his instinct to flee danger.

My theory of why the SIDE VIEW of the three llamas was the cause of his extreme reaction is as follows: When stallions are angry and ready to fight they hold their heads very high and their necks are nearly vertical. Llamas, especially those llamas being led UPHILL must have looked like that to him. In Primo's past (before I bought him), at five, he was rejected from the endurance sport and put out on the desert north of Bend, Oregon. He was to run, virtually wild, with a herd of about 15 horses, for about two and one-half years. He must have seen angry stallions fight. Perhaps he was even attacked by an angry stallion. After I bought Primo, he won four 50-mile endurance races.
Ed Anderson
 
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