From a young age, Alienor Le Gouvello developed a passion for travelling and adventure. Her previous expeditions include a horseback trek in Mongolia at age 22 and a sidecar motorbike expedition from Siberia to Paris. Le Gouvello, originally from France, was working with an Indigenous community in Docker River near Uluru in the Australian central desert when she first discovered the existence of wild brumbies. In 2015, she embarked on her longest solo journey: 5,330km along the Bicentennial National trail, Australia’s longest trekking route, beginning in Healesville in Victoria and ending in Cooktown, Queensland, with just three wild horses and her dog for company. Since it opened in 1988, only 35 people have completed the trail. Le Gouvello is the second woman to complete the trip and the only person to have the same horses from beginning to end.
I work in remote Aboriginal communities as a social worker with kids so even my work is a bit of an adventure and means living in isolated places
Le Gouvello’s horses were purchased through the passive trapping program of the Guy Fawkes River Heritage Horse Association. She spent nine months training the three horses she selected – Roxanne, Cooper and River – before the journey began. All the horses arrived in Cooktown healthy and strong and she says they did not sustain any injuries or require rest days.
The first 3,000km my horses were barefoot. Brumbies have amazing feet
The Bicentennial trail follows the foothills of the Great Dividing Range and the eastern escarpment. Other than her horses, Le Gouvello’s only other company was her dog, Fox, who joined her for part of the trip, save for when she was taking the trial through national parks or private property. “I hated the times I didn’t have Fox, because as much as I love my horses they don’t fit in my tent. I have had Fox for 12 years and he is my best mate.” Some days, towards the end of the day, Fox’s arthritis would flair up on the last few kilometres and Le Gouvello would carry him over her shoulders.
The beauty of some views and landscapes is just the encouragement you need some mornings to remind you the hardship of such an expedition is all worth it
At the beginning of the high Victorian country, the track was tough and very steep and the horses were not interested in going up and down such terrain: “Being green [just broken in] horses, they lacked the work ethic and if it wasn’t for my mare, who had the most amazing stamina, setting the pace I don’t know how we would have gotten through.”
I had a few meltdowns during the first couple of months wondering how I was going to manage to travel over 5,000 km with two ‘donkeys’. They eventually understood they weren’t getting out of it and we started working as a team
Going through a lot of farmers’ stations, fences were a real challenge. Grids on the properties she was travelling through did not always have a gate next to them. Le Gouvello had to undo fences with a pair of pliers to get through and always put them back up so that the farmers wouldn’t get upset. Another difficult aspect of the trip was food and water. Le Gouvello could not carry water for three horses so she had to find it every day. Some days they had to push on for extra kilometres to find a river or dam to rehydrate.
One night while Le Gouvello was continuing the nightly tradition of grooming and cuddling Fox after dinner, he began to look concerned and anxious, and when Alienor looked closer she saw a snake between her legs – it was enjoying the warmth of the fire too. Without thinking she grabbed a stick from the fire and threw the snake in.
I don’t like killing things if I don’t have to, but this guy was in our camp
Kangaroos, wallabies, wombats and birds were a constant reminder that she was deep in the Australian outback. Other wild brumbies were a sight throughout the national parks but also a real threat to her horses. She spent many nights in parks staying up to look out for them.