Alice Dunsdon’s Adelaide blog: we’ve done it!

  • We’ve done it!

    My incredible horse has completed five out of the six toughest three-day events in the world! Wow. What a horse.

    HospitalAs I write this blog I am sat in hospital in a delightful white gown with my devoted boyfriend Dave and my amazing Mother. I feel a lot better but I am meant to be flying home with Hilly on Wednesday and if my illness is because of my appendix we need to know now.

    This morning Hilly was on good form and Jenny my groom was all ready to trot him up for me as running feels like someone is stabbing knives into my stomach. I walked up to the trot-up and I saw the amount of people there showing their support for all of the competitors. I thought to myself, I can’t let these people down.

    I have received so many emails and messages through social media and I knew people were in the grandstand to support Hilly and I. I was sure I could manage a 20m jog next to Hilly. I sent my poor Mother running back to the stables to grab a better pair of shoes and whatever make-up she could find lying about. It was still early and no chocolate had been consumed yet, I was not looking my best. My mother arrived back just in time and I scraped my hair back into a bun, put my trot-up shoes on and walked forward with Hilly in hand to the ground jury. The president of the ground jury is Sandy Philips and the two members are Wayne Quarles and Martin Plewa and the technical delicate is Des Hughes.

    “Accepted,” I heard as we trotted back.

    Good boy Hilly, I said, as I patted him — though he couldn’t care less, he just wanted to get back to the stables and eat some hay.

    The time was now roughly 9.30am and from this time until 2.15pm I pretty much was asleep. The night before was not a comfortable one for me to put it politely and I didn’t get much sleep. The bathroom light must have looked like a discotheque the amount of times it was being switched on and off.

    Jenny had everything under control with Hilly and I needed to walk the course at 2.45pm. I’m always a bit late, but I was up at the showjumping arena at 2.50pm waiting to walk the course with my Mother. Corinne Bracken has helped me hugely with my showjumping.

    I also train with Gill Watson and Pammy Hutton for the stressage bits. I have trained with Gill since I was 15 years old and she probably knows my strengths and weakness better than anyone. Gill and Pammy are true horsewoman and they both “get” me. I’m open to all methods of training, but I feel it’s very important you bond with your trainer and also I don’t think it’s bad to see different trainers as some may suit certain horses and some may not. Ernest Dillion is also a fantastic coach who I recommend, but I just find I bond better with another woman training me… We then can moan about the men in the world!

    I spoke to Corinne on Facebook briefly and I told her my instructions to myself. They go has follows:

    1. Toes out — this means over the fence to turn my toes outwards as it helps with my lower leg. I’m obsessed with my lower leg and showjumping I get nervous and grip up with my knees and my lower leg does not always stay secure around the horse.
    2. Keep contact — over the bigger fences I mustn’t let go of the front end. In other words I must not throw the reins at him over the fence or else he becomes unbalanced and more likely to have a fence down.
    3. Look up and keep position — Hilly has a big jump and when he tries hard in the showjumping he can unseat me and I lose my balance. Especially on landing I tip forwards or to stop that I slip my reins too much through the air to keep my position and balance. I then end up with washing lines for reins. It helps if I look up on the point of take-off, keep looking up and stay forward with him until he lands. I find this helps me to stop tilting forward on landing. Two riders that I admire so much and always try mimic their position are Louise and Nicole Pavitt. They are both brilliant riders and if I look like them at all when I’m showjumping I am very happy.
    4. Give him room in front of the fence — the way that Hilly jumps is that he bring his front legs up and out on take-off, so if I get to close to the fence on the point of take-off he does not have enough room to get his legs out of the way.

    “Excellent,” Corinne wrote back. Good I thought. Now I just need to do it!

    The showjumping course looked up to height and not too forgiving. All the oxers were square and the vertices were big too. Most eventers would prefer a tougher showjumping course so the final leaderboard is not just a reflection on the dressage mark. The time was proving to be tight too — something I have been working on with Hilly as he wastes so much time in the air.

    Hilly warmed up well outside. I had the CNN camera crew filming me as I warmed up and, yes, I will admit it I missed at a cross pole! Hilly quickly told me, “No mum, I will put another stride I here before I take off” — luckily it was only a cross pole and I hoped that was my miss out the way.

    I was next in, Hilly seemed nervous too and Jenny had to lead me around. Hilly is a good jumper but he can have fences down so I just wanted to ride to the best of my ability to try and help him. As I trotted in my heart was racing, no stomach pains, I just didn’t want mess this bit up. I saluted to the ground jury and they rung the bell.

    Show time. I circled in canter and headed to the first showjump — relief, I have a stride. Nothing worse than first fence-itus! He felt mega underneath me. Two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11 — all clear. I turned into the combination — “whoa” I said to Hilly and I felt he just rubbed the fence going in to have it down. I turned to the last and he jumped the big square oxer like a stag. Just one down! No time-faults, I was thrilled!


    Being me, the first thing I said to my Mother as I came out of the ring was: “That was my fault! We got a bit close. He could have jumped it but I was a bit close!”

    Whether I was too close or not, or if he should have jumped the fence clear or not,  I can’t complain about just one down. Any horse can have an unlucky fence down and I felt I rode well and didn’t let Hilly down.


    Wow! We’ve done it! It’s still sinking in.

    Back at the stables a fellow competitor asked me, “Are you glad it’s over?”Hilly

    “No, I wish I could do it all again!” I replied, “Well, the competition bit at least!”

    Hilly finished 16th and I am so proud of him. My aim was to complete Adelaide with a fit healthy horse to fly home with and I’ve done that. Yes, I’m gutted about going the wrong side of the ropes across country but there is nothing I can do about that now. Making mistakes does not mean you’re a failure. It just means you’re trying and learning in life. I will certainly learn to look at the ropes in the future!

    So as I’m sat here now in hospital waiting for a scan I feel happy. In the famous words of Phil Collins, “I’m not trying necessarily to become a movie star; that wouldn’t be bad but that’s not the aim. I’m just trying to do interesting things and go into areas where I’ve not been before.”

    That’s it really. I’m not anyone special and others could do this too. Life is short, if there was ever a moment to follow your passion and do something that matters to you, that moment is now.

    Hospital2That’s how I try to live my life.

    Hilly and I leave for Melbourne tomorrow (Monday) and on Wednesday we fly home if everything goes to plan. If my appendix does not look good and it has to be removed Hilly will fly home with Jenny.

    Until next time — hopefully I will be able to show you all photos of Hilly in the field on holiday at home in Surrey!

    Thank you all for being a huge part of my journey. I have absolutely no idea how many of you are reading this, but I promise you all never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass away and you’re never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.

    Take care,

    Alice and Hilly xx


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