1. Introduction

Any llama with reasonable conformation and some degree of conditioning will likely be suitable for light to moderate packing for the average person. However, as the demands increase, so does the necessity for choosing a llama that is up to the job. Many people have purchased llamas as being “suitable for packing”, only to find that the animal did not meet expectations.

Perhaps the llama had a covering of heavy wool and was not able to adjust to different temperature and humidity conditions, or perhaps it simply was not built for stamina over distance.

The following thoughts and observations are aimed at those people who are, for whatever reason, looking for ways to identify the superior athlete on the basis of structure and way of going. Many of these concepts were pointed out to us by experienced packers, and in particular, by Wes Holmquist.  Some are carry-overs from the equine world that we believe to hold true for llamas, and some are recent concepts based on observations in the field.

One has to be very cautious about applying equine principles to llamas. Many of the principles of equine conformation are simply not applicable to llamas because of the differences in structure of these animals and the very different uses to which they are put.

Attempting to define athletic conformation is a formidable task, as generations of horsemen and owners of working dogs have discovered. No one work can possibly cover all the bases. The following is intended as a very broad and general outline – as starting point and collection of theories for discussion and examination, rather than a comprehensive scientific treatise on llama conformation. Much of it may be revised as we add to our knowledge of the working llama over the years.

We are always suspicious of those people who say they understand a topic, but refuse to discuss specifics because they claim the principles are far too complex to be understood by the average person. If we are to be successful breeders of the working llama, we need to understand the specifics - what makes each one different. It’s not difficult to choose the males on the basis of performance, but many of us do not pack our breeding females. They are untested on the trail. They have no performance record. We need to assess their potential through studying their structure and movement.

It is not our intention to label specific conformational traits as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but simply to attempt to identify those traits likely to lead to athletic excellence. And even more importantly – to encourage breeders and packers to study their llamas with a view to underlying structure.

A thorough knowledge of conformation is a huge bonus when making breeding plans – judging which crosses are likely to be successful for a given purpose.

The skeleton is the base and the foundation upon which all else is constructed.

 This cannot be emphasized enough. All llamas and alpacas have the same bones in their bodies. But it is the size and length of these bones and the angles of attachment that results in individual body types. Bone lengths and angles govern range of motion and available space for anchoring muscles, tendons and ligaments. It all starts with the skeleton.

Drawings of the llama skeleton were done for the purpose of demonstrating principles of motion and may not be anatomically accurate.

Points of Conformation

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