Alice Dunsdon’s Adelaide blog: I was in hospital just 12 hours before my cross-country

  • I will start this blog from Friday morning. I woke up in the hotel we are staying at called the Crown Plaza in Adelaide City around 6am. I’m not a morning person whatsoever and normally it takes me a decent size of chocolate to get me going.

    I awoke with what I can only describe as a sore tummy. I chose to ignore this and went to ride Hilly, who was feeling very full of himself! Hilly’s test was later that afternoon. As we all know Hilly can be a cheeky chappy, so I rode him out a couple of times before his test so he could unwind and relax.


    The pain throughout the morning was become worse and I hadn’t eaten anything that I thought was bad in the last 24 hours. Luckily my Mother had some painkillers that I was allowed to take under FEI rules and they seemed to help. I was ever so slightly beginning to think that sitting trot may not be that comfortable today.

    Fortunately the painkillers were on side and Hilly scored a 55.1 and he was in 11th place after the dressage out of 30 competitors. I am absolutely delighted with his dressage performance. He kept his head and tried hard. I did not do very much dressage practice at all since being here to keep him on side. Too much training and Hilly will say no. Some might say a temperamental character, but we love him for it!

    It was lovely to see the grandstand packed full of people cheering on everyone. The welcome I received walking into the arena for our dressage test was incredible. I think this made Hilly happy too and certainly helped with our performance.


    I’ve been amazed by everyone’s responses to what I’m trying to achieve and the amount of people rooting for Hilly and I is just amazing! So thank you again for all of your support and kind words I have had.

    After Hilly’s test my groom Jenny took him for graze in hand — Hilly’s favourite part of the day at competitions — and my boyfriend Dave and I went to meet some of Dave’s family who had traveled from Brisbane to watch me compete. As we sat chatting over a cup of tea and cake the deep aching pains began to return to my stomach.

    We said our goodbyes and I was off to walk the cross-country course for its third inspection. I would generally walk three-day cross-country courses three or four times. My first walk is fairly relaxed looking at all the questions figuring out the different options. My second walk is more detailed, walking my lines, making sure I know the distances and on my third course walk I walk the course to how I will hopefully ride it. My fourth walk is normally something for me to do if I’m nervous the day of the competition and also to check that nothing has changed on the course or jumps themselves — flower arrangements by the jumps or take-off and landing surfaces.

    The course here is designed by Mike Etherington-Smith. I love Mike’s courses as I feel they are always very fair to the horses and encourage you to ride forward and positively. Whenever I see Mike as the course-designer I am happy. Mike is also very approachable to ask questions about the course and he is more than happy to advise you on his opinion, which I hate to say it is normally right. Hilly’s last prep run was the stunning event at Millstreet in Co Cork, Ireland, in August. And again the famous Mr Etherington-Smith was there as course designer there and it was the perfect prep run for Hilly.

    As I set out on Friday afternoon to walk the course I was not in a good way. I walked the first park and then quickly retreated back to the stables.

    The course here is simply very cool. You’re in the heart of the city with the skyscrapers looking down on you. The course is in parkland throughout the city and there is always something going on around the park, from yoga classes to dog play groups, families having picnics or just simply people leisurely walking around. There are  coffee shops and bars around Victoria Park and the atmosphere is very chic and trendy.

    As I arrived back to stables I was starting to deteriorate. What on earth was happening to me?

    Dave drove me back to the hotel where I started being violently sick with crippling stomach cramps. After two hours of this we decided to go to hospital, where the symptoms just became worse. My bloods were suggesting infection but I had no temperature. It had gone 1am and I was in my worst state. The doctors wanted to give me stronger pain killers. The pain was becoming unbearable. If I was a horse I would have been throwing myself about the stable and if you tried to make me walk I would go down.

    My Mother rang Yogi Breisner to discuss what drugs are permitted and prohibited for athletes or in other words me, to try and get the pain under control. I have never known such crippling pain before. The doctors were unsure what it could be. Food poisoning? A virus? Appendicitis? All I knew is that I was going cross-country now later that day at 3pm. At about 3am the painkillers began to come into play and the fluids I received had finished — I just needed sleep. The hospital discharged me, but still weren’t sure what was wrong.

    I woke up at 6.30am. Oh no, I thought, the pain is back. I quickly swallowed the drugs the hospital gave to me and went back to bed praying it would work. 9am — better not great, I thought. I need to walk the rest of the course. The roping of the cross-country happens on the Friday as it is all open to the public and I needed to do my last walk. I dragged myself out of bed and went to walk the course with my Mother as I did not want to be alone in case the pains became any greater.

    The two-star cross-country had already started and the crowds were out showing their support. Walking seemed to hurt my stomach a lot, but I knew if I wanted to compete I had to walk. At a slow pace I walked the second half of the course. I apologise to people who came up and said hello — I was not feeling at my best — but thank you for taking the time to show your support.

    I arrived back to the stables 1pm. An hour before I needed to start getting ready. Things were not looking positive. I was in more pain, not as bad as in the night, but there had to be a miracle for me to feel better. Sleep I thought, I need sleep.

    30 minutes past and I woke up feeling a little better. One thing at a time Dunsdon, get dressed. The four-star had already started and I could hear people outside the campavan telling others their stories of the cross-country.

    I wish that was me I thought. Already finished.

    I was not nervous at this point, I wish I was as it would have felt better than the way I was feeling. I slowly walked over suited and booted for cross-county to the stables. Jenny was brilliant. She had already walked Hilly out twice in the morning for a leg stretch and made sure he was 150% ready for me to climb on when I walked around the corner.

    2.30pm. I was feeling better now I was sat on Hilly. 30 minutes before we set off. I walked around the warm-up area,

    “Come on adrenaline, kick in,” I said to myself.

    As I began to warm up more with Hilly, the stomach cramps began to disappear from my mind. The pain was slowly easing a little.

    “I can do this,” I thought.

    Hilly felt incredible warming up, even trying to have a little play buck after jumping the warm-up fences.
    Then there was a hold. To my knowledge there was a water pipe that had burst. We were told they had to re-string the rope around a certain part of the course. I was pretty sure I knew where they meant and I was happy with what the stewards had told me.

    I was next to go.

    “Three minutes.” When the starter says that it feels like an eternity.

    I keep walking around. My team behind me. My Mother there as always at the start and finish.

    Then the magic words: “Five, four, three, two, one, go!”

    I was away. Come on Hilly, it’s just me and you out here now and he was incredible. He made the big, twisty track feel amazing. This is why we go eventing — for horses like this that make you feel like your flying.

    I was halfway round the course when I was galloping along and realised I had accidentally gone the wrong side of the ropes down an avenue. I had to turn around and get back on course. How did this happen? I walked it correctly this morning, why did I do that? Had they changed the ropes here? They had changed the ropes in that area due to the water leak, but to be honest even though it was in the same area, it was my mistake. Hilly jumped the most fantastic clear round but because of my error we had time-penalties.

    Picture by Jenelle Christopher AU

    Picture by Jenelle Christopher AU

    As I crossed the finish line I was delighted with Hilly. He looked after me out there when I was not 100%, but I let him down and went the wrong way. I’m going over and over in my head why I went to the left and not to the right, but I guess I will never known for sure.

    My goal was to jump clear around this amazing four-star and that we did. Hilly made it feel like child’s play and I am delighted with him.

    As soon as I jumped off Jenny and vets surrounded me. Hilly is the number one priority. Vets check the horse’s heart rates and temperature and for any other abnormalities. Jenny’s job is to cool him down as quickly as possible and keep him walking so his muscles don’t suddenly stop and too much lactic acid builds up.


    Hilly recovered well and the vets were impressed by his fitness. He was quickly allowed to go back to the stables so Jenny was able to finish off his after cross-country regime there.

    I wish I was as quick to recover. As soon as I jumped off Hilly I felt a bit spaced out and the stomach pains were back.

    I stayed around the stables for another couple of hours to make sure Hilly was recovering well and as Jenny led him out for a walk and grass, I needed to lie down.

    If Hilly is fit and well I will showjump tomorrow. I wish I knew what was wrong with me. I am getting better slowly, I just pray I don’t go downhill again. I don’t like being ill. I don’t do that sort of thing.

    Until next time I’m resting up. Hilly, you go to the riders’ party for me. You deserve it.

    Alice Xx

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