French woman horse trekking through NZ

Central Otago Mirror - - NEWS - By MARY-JO TO­HILL

French­woman Max­ence ‘Max’ Benoist is tack­ling the length of New Zealand on horse­back for her first long-dis­tance horse trek.

As a young girl, trav­el­ling around France by car with her par­ents to visit mem­bers of her far-flung fam­ily, she dreamed of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing her home­land by horse­back.

‘‘In a car you don’t get the smells or hear the sounds like you do from the back of a horse,’’ Benoist, who is cur­rently rid­ing from Bluff to Nel­son, said.

Hav­ing started in De­cem­ber with her two lease horses, Lucy and Har­vey, the 27 year-old Bordeaux na­tive rode through Cen­tral Otago this week, tak­ing in some of the Mid­dle-earth scenery, which fea­tures strongly in The Lord of the Rings and Hob­bit film trilo­gies.

A kiwi film fan, she said the Tolkien-Jack­son films rep­re­sented what New Zealand and New Zealan­ders were all about.

‘‘The films show how tal­ented ki­wis can be and I loved the cre­ativ­ity and pas­sion they showed through the lo­ca­tions and scenery.’’

For the open spa­ces of Aotearoa, she left the con­fines of an of­fice job in Paris, where she worked for an elite Euro­pean man­age­ment school, Groupe ESG, as an in­ter­na­tional co-or­di­na­tor of Asian, Latin Amer­i­can, Cen­tral Euro­pean as well as French stu­dents.

‘‘I loved my job and help­ing stu­dents but be­ing at a desk all day was just too much.’’

So, she ex­changed desk for sad­dle to see New Zealand, and is even pre­pared to muck-in at the var­i­ous farms, or­chards and vine­yards she will stop at on the way, to re-sup­ply and rest her horses.

‘‘The best way to get to know a coun­try and its cul­ture is to talk to and work with its peo­ple. I don’t just want to be a tourist, so if peo­ple are open to the idea of par­tic­i­pa­tion, that would be great!’’

For part of the jour­ney, she is fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of well­known long-dis­tance eques­tri­ans Peter Long­ford and Mary Pag­na­menta, who trekked from Bluff to Cape Reinga in re­cent years.

How­ever, while she has some ex­pe­ri­ence with horses, Benoist has­tens to add she is no ex­pert, and be­fore com­ing to New Zealand three months ago, had never done any long-dis­tance rides, or treks that had not been or­gan­ised by some­one else.

‘‘It’s been my dream since I was 10 years old to do a trip like this, but al­ready I’m find­ing it a bit dif­fer­ent in re­al­ity!’’

Just 300km into the 1000km trip, while she has no fears for her safety, she has felt the pres­sure of hav­ing to think ahead, spend­ing sleep­less nights wor­ry­ing about her horses.

‘‘We’re still get­ting to know each other, and how to com­mu­ni­cate, but I’ve been very lucky with my pack horse Har­vey, who is also the boss, and is some­times the lead horse. He’s re­ally clever and can find his way around ob­sta­cles in our path.’’

She re­ceived some last­ing ad­vice from a French trekker who she trained with, about mak­ing the trip fun for both hu­man and horses.

‘‘Horses are herd an­i­mals, so they like to walk for awhile then graze on a nice patch of grass, so if you make the trip like that, it makes sense to them.’’ It means she gets a rest too. Although fully equipped for the jour­ney with spe­cially made sad­dles, camp­ing equip­ment, sup­plies and a lo­ca­tor bea­con, Benoist has been touched by the hos­pi­tal­ity she has so far re­ceived, with places to stay and grazing for her horses.

‘‘I’ve been amazed at peo­ple’s gen­eros­ity. I didn’t ex­pect it and I feel priv­i­leged to have re­ceived it.’’

She aims to be in Nel­son by mid-April, and has a visa to stay in New Zealand un­til at least Septem­ber. After that, who knows.

● Go to Benoist’s web­site: braid­ed­manes­braid­ed­tales.com

On her way: French trekker Max­ence Benoist with pack­horse Har­vey, left, and mount Lucy.

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