French woman horse trekking through NZ
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.