When French expat Aliénor le Gouvello encountered semi-wild Brumbies in the Australian outback, she was immediately obsessed. An animal fiercely loved by some and considered a scourge by others, Brumbies have a complicated place in Australian culture and history. Inspired to celebrate their character, le Gouvello tamed three brumbies ‒ Roxanne, River and Cooper ‒ and teamed up with them to take on the physical and mental challenges of the Bicentennial National Trail, Australia’s longest trek, which passes through 18 of Australia’s national parks and more than 50 state forests.


(Cat Vinton photo)


Le Gouvello recounts her epic equine journey in a new book, Wild at Heart (translated by Catherine de Saint Phalle), that traces her ride across 5,330 kilometres from Healesville in Victoria to Cooktown in Far North Queensland. During the course of her ride across some of Australia’s most iconic terrain, battling isolation and the elements, Le Gouvello built a profound bond with her horses and made life-changing discoveries where she least expected.

Conservationists see Brumbies as an out-of-control pest responsible for destroying the country’s delicate ecosystems, whereas advocates view them as a national treasure, one made famous by the poem and movie The Man from Snowy River.

Le Gouvello is one of only two women to complete the Trail alone, and the only person to do so with the same horses from start to finish. To this day only 55 people have completed the entire trail since its inception in 1988.

“I left home at 17 and have been travelling ever since. In Australia, a longer and harder journey than any other awaited me, but it was to become the most meaningful,’ says Le Gouvello, who won a Sidetracked Adventure Fund grant to complete the trek, and also received a grant from Australian Geographic. “Coming into contact with wild brumbies felt like destiny. Their return to the wild echoed a pure wildness I was in search of and trekking with them across the bush helped me reach what my life was all about.”


(Cat Vinton photo)