Real Life

Why these woman spent two years circumnavigating NZ on horseback

Friends take the reins to raise money for a cause close to their hearts.
Kendall (far left) and Larissa with their trusty steeds China and Sprite.

When Larissa Mueller and Kendall Waugh met four years ago, one afternoon was all it took to spark a life-changing friendship – and a plot to conquer New Zealand on horseback.

“We were both working at Burger Fuel in Taupo when we got talking and it all happened that afternoon really,” laughs Larissa (28), who grew up in the Hawke’s Bay.

“We were a bit backwards, I suppose,” adds Auckland-born Kendall (26). “We both wanted to own a horse and once we’d discovered that about each other, the idea kind of just came to us.”

It was a plan that started out simple enough.

“We first said we should just buy a horse together, but then one of us goes, ‘Okay, and lets travel the country on it!’” recalls Kendall.

It snowballed from there and now the pair are in the middle of attempting to become the first team to circumnavigate the country on horseback without a support crew.

The friends hope to raise $20,000 for the Leg Up Trust – a Hastings organisation that matches underprivileged children with horses, to give them an opportunity to establish a connection with a horse and build trust and self-esteem.

On a stunning day in Glenorchy, just outside of Queenstown.

“Our goal is to inspire young people to believe in themselves,” says Kendall. “Growing up in West Auckland, it wasn’t uncommon to see kids come to school without shoes on and with only a packet of Raro for lunch, so I look at the kids coming through the Leg Up Trust and I’m reminded of the children I was at school with. I just want to help them.”

Calling themselves Horsing Around Aotearoa, Larissa and Kendall spent two years planning and squirrelling away every dollar they earned for the trip.

Instead of spending Saturday nights with friends, they would stay home, sewing their own saddlebags.

“There were a lot of sacrifices we had to make but we never felt like we were missing out on anything because we had this amazing goal,” says Larissa.

Finally, in November 2014, they loaded up their horses – six-year-olds Sprite and China – and set off from Cape Kidnappers in the Hawke’s Bay for their two-year long trip.

They knock off around 25km each day, travelling non-stop except for a few months each year when they hang up the reins over winter.

While others have trekked the length of New Zealand, these two are aiming to be the first to go full circle.

And as of a few weeks ago, the pair can proudly say that they’re halfway there.

After 346 days on the road, Larissa and Kendall trotted back into Picton, having travelled some 4000km from their starting point at Cape Kidnappers, across the Cook Strait and around the South Island.

With winter approaching, Larissa and Kendall are taking a break for the next few months, but will be back to complete the second leg – travelling from Wellington to Cape Reinga via the west coast, and then from Cape Reinga back to Cape Kidnappers via the east coast around Coromandel and the East Cape – later this year.

It’s a remarkable undertaking, but what makes it even more so is that the women went into it having never owned a horse and with practically no riding experience whatsoever – bar the odd hour here and there as kids.

Of course, it hasn’t been easy.

“It’s a long time being on the road and it’s been tough adjusting to it – mentally and physically,” admits Larissa. “Our horses, though, are rock stars. They’ve kept condition really well and tackled all the challenges we’ve thrown at them.”

And it’s fair to say there have been quite a few of those, considering the treacherous terrain they’ve faced.

“There’s this place in the Wairarapa called the Devil’s Mile – that kind of says it all,” says Larissa, shuddering at the memory of the near-vertical slope.

“We were crossing it in the dark, rocks were slipping beneath us into the sea below and I don’t think I’ve ever been more terrified… I also don’t think I’ve ever seen the horses more terrified. We still look back and wonder how we survived.”

But survive they did, only to be confronted by more dangerous challenges, including crossing through a gorge on the way to Picton as night – and a heck of a lot of rain – fell.

Risking life and limb on the back of a horse, sleeping in a tent and surviving on “flavourless sludge” (rice, lentils and veges) may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but these two say they’ve never been happier.

“I used to think I wanted the house, the car and all of those material possessions, but now I realise that none of that matters,” says Kendall. “It’s about the connections you make and the people you surround yourself with. All I want out of life now is happiness.”

Larissa feels the same.

“I had this picture in my head of buying a piece of land and building a certain lifestyle in one place, but now I just want to be a gypsy!”

But by far the best thing, aside from the picturesque scenery, has been the generosity of those they’ve encountered along the way.

From the locals who have opened up their homes to let the pair have a shower, a meal or a bed for the night, to the farmers who have given them access through their private land, and those who have stopped to give directions or an apple to the horses.

“I just feel so humbled by the kindness people have shown us,” says Kendall. “We’re completely self-funded and we don’t have sponsorship or a team behind us, but honestly, we don’t need one – New Zealand is our support crew.”

For more information and to donate, click here

Words: Ellen Dorset

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