Pete Langford has decided to make the most of the opportunity offered by his recent difficulties, setting off this Sunday on a 2500-kilometre ride the length of New Zealand.
He can still recall how, eight months ago, he nearly gagged on his cup of tea when a friend had suggested how his serious misfortune had left him in a fortunate position. He had just explained to her how his business had struggled and his house had been sold by his bank in a mortgagee sale.
Langford, 43, had called in to visit her for a long overdue catchup while in Auckland.
His news was grim. He had lost his job about four years ago and decided to set up a business carrying out home-renovation work.
The business was going fine until the recession hit. Suddenly, qualified builders who before the downtown would not have even considered the kind of renovations he was undertaking were chasing the same work.
With his income suffering, he struggled to meet mortgage payments on his home just north of Paparoa, in Northland.
The bank, he said, was understanding and gave him a chance to sort out the problem. He put the house on the market but an auction failed to attract a bid that would cover the mortgage. In the end the house was sold by the bank in a mortgagee auction.
“I was sitting there having a little bit of a whinge,” he recalls. “I might have been feeling slightly sorry for myself.”
Langford’s friend thought about his situation and said: “I think you are quite fortunate, really.”
“I thought she was bloody mad,” said Langford, who was born in Doncaster, England, and has lived in New Zealand for nine years.
Langford regained his composure and invited her to explain her perspective.
“Well,” she responded. “Look at it this way. You don’t have a mortgage to worry about. You don’t really have a job. You have got total freedom. You can now go and do anything you want.”
Langford pondered his situation during the two-hour drive home.
He had worked all his life, he said, and the opportunity to “have a bit of time for me” was sorely tempting.
Ever since he had arrived in New Zealand, he had thought about how wonderful it would be ride the length of the two main islands, through the country’s spectacular sub-alpine high country in the South Island to the sub-tropical country of the far north.
“I thought, ‘if I am ever going to do this, I have an opportunity now’.”
He got home and decided to let the idea sit for a couple of weeks before considering it again. “Two weeks later, I was even more excited.”
He decided that, if he was going to have a mid-life crisis, it had to benefit other people. To that end, he hopes to raise funds for emergency air service trusts around the country.
The two horses that will be making the journey with him are off-the-track standardbreds.
Ed is a seven-year-old gelding and Maddie is a mare who a little younger. Both animals were retrained and given to him by Michelle Morrison, whom he says has retrained and rehomed about 200 standardbreds. Both have been off the track a matter of months, he says.
He is currently staying with friends in Outram, in Central Otago, where he is working with the horses in final preparation for the ride.
They will head south shortly to Bluff, to begin the ride on Sunday. It will end about six months later, at Cape Reinga.
It has taken Langford months of planning, mapping out a tentative route and making important contacts to get permission to cross private land.
He expects to cover about 30-35 kilometres a day.
He has a plan in place, but will change it if he feels it will benefit Ed and Maddie.
“The welfare of the horses is my first and only non-negotiable priority,” he says.
“Long-distance riding requires a certain approach and I will be using tried and tested cavalry tactics,” he says.
He will set off each day around 7am, stopping each hour to allow the horses a rest and enjoy 10 minutes of grazing.
The lunch break will be an hour, with saddles off for a decent rest, and feed and drink.
“I aim to have completed each day’s leg of riding by around 3.30pm. This gives me plenty of daylight to attend to the horses, make any kit repairs or adjustments, cook food, check the next day’s route and a hundred other things that will crop up, hopefully not all on the same day!”
He will take two days off after every five days of riding to give the horses a decent break.
The horses will receive a ration of feed at the beginning and end of each day.
He will rotate Ed and Maddie each day, with one being the riding horse and the other the pack horse.
Ed and Maddie will go barefoot where ground conditions allow. Where underfoot conditions are tougher, he will fit them both with full sets of boots.
He will not have a support crew on the journey. His plan is to drive his truck 150km upcountry to where he intends to take the next two-day break, and hitch-hike back to his horses.
The truck will enable to him to run errands and uplift fresh supplies as he needs them. If the truck proves too troublesome to relocate, he may chose to continue without it.
He will be relying on the goodwill of locals along the route for grazing and any kind offers of a bed and roof. Otherwise, he will be camping.
Langford said he was grateful for the advice and wisdom of CuChullaine and Basha O’Reilly, founding members of the Long Riders’ Guild.
The pair, he said, were supportive and offered invaluable input, as well as contacts.
He said he was honoured to have been offered the opportunity to carry the Guild’s flag along the route, which may ultimately climb to around 3000 kilometres once he allows for deviations.
His tentative route takes him through the centre of the South Island, with plans to deviate east to the earthquake-ravaged city of Christchurch about six weeks into the journey.
His North Island route concentrates on the east side of the island.
He says he will ride or lead his horses for the entire journey, even in the cities. The only time a truck will be used is when the horses cross Cook Strait on a ferry.
Langford says he has set up as much as he confidently can, but does not want to plan in minute detail as arrangements need to remain fluid.
“The best-laid plans of mice and men can, as we all know, turn to custard. Most problems I’m confident I can sort out myself.
“Allowing for the unforeseen seems prudent. I’ll have contacts along the route who can help me if I have an issue I can’t resolve by myself.
“These will include farriers and vets along the way. I will be having the horses vet-checked a number of times along the route.”
Those interested in his ride will be able to follows his adventures on his website www.freewitheveryhorse.com and Facebook page, which he will update when opportunities allow.
He is hopeful that he can get the GPS technology in place to update his position every 10 minutes on the website.
Those interested in giving to the emergency air service trusts his ride is supporting will be able to do so directly to the trust of their choice via links that will soon be uploaded on his website.
Horsetalk will also be providing regular updates on Langford’s adventure.