Lawrie and Jenny O’Carroll are the owners of Waitohi Downs, home of Alpine Horse Safaris. They have lived here now since 1981, and have been running the horse safari business as a husband and wife team since 1992. Both Lawrie and Jenny have been involved with horses all their lives, and each contribute different parts of their knowledge to the smooth running of the safaris. In addition to the work on the farm, Lawrie cares for and trains the horses to make them a pleasure for people to ride, while Jenny concentrates on keeping the business side going and cooking and baking to feed those hungry mouths once the day’s riding is finished. Yet both Jenny and Lawrie have enough experience to do any job required of them and are interchangeable in their roles on the Safaris.
Since an early age, even before starting school, Lawrie has had his own ponies and took part in pony clubs, gymkanas and shows. This early introduction to horses has given him invaluable experience and a natural way with horses. On leaving school he headed for the high country and spent 16 years as a musterer, shepherd and meat hunter. During that time he continued with his love of working with horses, and also stock work, breaking, training, packing, rodeo riding, playing polo and shoeing horses.
Jenny also started riding ponies at a young age and soon started competing successfully in shows, dressage and one day events on her own horse. She also has extensive knowledge of packing, cooking and guiding.
Lawrie and Jenny married in 1975 and they both spent several years in the high country working on various stations. They then purchased a stallion called Turbo Charge and commenced breeding horses. In 1979 they purchased a property in the North Canterbury area of Oxford, converted it to a deer farm and erected a deer selling complex, the first arena in the South Island.
In 1981, they returned to purchase Lawrie’s childhood home of Waitohi Downs from his father, and in doing so gained a 1012 hectare (2,500 acre) property. They then purchased further mares and breeding of their distinctive Clydesdale Thoroughbred Cross horses developed quickly. As their herd of horses grew to its current count of 80, so also did the stock on the farm, now standing at 2600 sheep, 150 cattle and 450 red deer.
Throughout this time, Lawrie and Jenny welcomed visitors into their home for farmstays, and realised that there was scope for a successful horse riding business. So, in 1992, they launched Alpine Horse Safaris, taking guests away for rides ranging from 2 hours to 12 days. Lawrie’s in depth knowledge and experience of the area gained from working throughout Canterbury has proved invaluable for the longer safaris and Jenny’s wonderful cooking has kept the guests full of energy at all times.
Together they have over 80 years of experience of breaking, riding, training and packing horses. Their unequalled knowledge of the area and understanding of horses has been a great asset in guaranteeing guests the ‘Ultimate Ride’ on a safe and suitable mount.