FOR Paralympian Grace Bowman, a background in country South Australia helped drive her success as an international equestrian competitor.
The 21-year-old who grew up in Moonta before finishing high school in Kadina endured a life-changing injury at the age of 12 when her horse Jim shied and ran into a low-hanging tree branch.
The accident dislocated her spine and left her paralysed from the waist down.
But a strong support network and an upper Yorke Peninsula community that refused to let her dreams suffer helped Grace get "back on the horse" just five months later.
"The support network people have in the country is second to none," Grace said.
"And after my accident, no one told me I was crazy when I wanted to keep riding, and I think that made it so much easier to get to where I am now."
At the age of 18, Grace became the first South Australian to represent Australia at the Paralympic Games, and the youngest equestrian competitor at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games.
"That was a pretty huge milestone for me," Grace said.
"And it came four years earlier as I was originally aiming for London, so I guess that was why it was so special for me."
Grace finished 15th at the Paralympic Games but only two years later, increased her world ranking by 11 places when together with her horse Kirby Park Joy, she finished fourth at the 2010 World Equestrian Games at Kentucky, United States, as an individual combination - missing out on a bronze medal by only 0.095 per cent.
Grace is now training at Hahndorf for up to four days a week for selection at the 2012 London Paralympic Games.
She has crossed one selection event in Tamworth and has three more to go between December this year and May 2012 before she can secure a place on the Australian team.
"We have what we call target scores," Grace said.
"It gives me a good guideline as to where I am at, and I want to maintain that high level of performance with the horse all the time.
"If it starts to fall below that, you ask yourself, what's changed?"
While some might consider this a lengthy selection period for a competitor, Grace said it was necessary because the sport was unique in that it had high-performance animals as integral members of the team.
She said the horses had to be monitored over a lengthy period of time to ensure they were fit for the task and no injuries crop-up after selection.
With hard knocks teaching her how to prevail over difficult situations, Grace is now pursuing a second passion - sport psychology. She plans to draw on her life experiences to help others.
"I'm interested in the sports side of psychology although if I did my masters I would do it in clinical psychology so I could work," she said.
"But then, I would like to study that with a sports perspective, perhaps on the Olympic teams.
"I have such a strong background in sport and figured I could bring some lifetime experiences into the equation."
Grace now lives in Adelaide where she studies at the University of Adelaide but remains firmly focussed on working towards the London Paralympics. She says support from her hometown has helped her achieve many of her dreams.
"I'm a huge ambassador for living in the country, or at least growing up in the country," Grace said.
*Full report in Stock Journal, October 20 issue, 2011.