The Bicentennial National Trail in Australia covers an astounding 5,330 km of land that ranges from Cooktown in North Queensland to Healesville in Victoria. While the idea of trekking such an expansive trail on horseback might not appeal to anyone but the hardiest of riders, for one Aussie equestrian, it’s the goal and achievement of a lifetime.
Rowena Dowling was born blind in one eye, but grew up riding alongside her father who owned Arabians and gifted his daughter a chestnut filly in her youth. Dowling became a nurse, but when a glaucoma diagnosis in her 20s took her remaining sight, she thought her riding days were over.
For years Dowling adjusted to being blind and lived a fulfilling life, but she was still passionate about horses and riding, which she missed. Then it all changed when she met a woman who worked with the visually impaired. Dowling told a reporter from ABC News in Australia, “I said to her, ‘I never even considered as a blind person going back to riding, but would you be prepared to support me and be my eyes when I’m riding a horse? And she readily agreed.”
Approximately 12 months later, Dowling has her own horse, a 10-year-old Quarter Horse mare named Ice. The former nurse takes lessons and also started trail riding with the help of a sighted support rider who rides behind Dowling and Ice.
Falling in love with riding again is what inspired Dowling to ride Ice on the Bicentennial National Trail. According to her Facebook posts, the goal is to begin the ride in May 2022 and as part of the journey, Dowling will be fundraising to help organizations that help people with a disability “thrive, not just survive,” such as Vision Australia, Guide Dogs Australia and Diabetes Australia. She’s also asking for sponsorship to cover the cost and logistics of the ride as well as support riders to assist her with training over other trail rides in southeast Queensland before she sets out on the epic National Trail.