Mari Akhurst, a Lady Bader Grant Recipient and our first featured Bader Grant Recipient of the Month is a para dressage rider. She suffers from cerebral palsy that cerebral palsy that affects all four limbs and has left me weaker down her left side and affects her balance and muscle tone. Her goal is to represent Team GB in Para Dressage in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. As you will see from the blog below – she is now another step closer to achieving that goal.
This blog is taken from Mari’s Website, which you can visit by clicking on the link. There you will find monthly blogs and information which really give an extraordinarily clear insight into the grit and sheer determination that Mari has to draw on to ride and compete at this level. As she says, her horses are stars but she’s a bit of one too! We are immensely proud of her.
Where to start, this month has been extremely exciting as well as tough!
I started the month by going to the junior triathlon hosted by Arctic One who I very proudly am an Ambassador for. It was a fantastic event, the weather was kind and there was a huge amount of support for all the competitors which was fantastic. It was also great to meet David from The Douglas Bader Foundation who also very kindly support me. I had a fantastic morning and really enjoyed myself and Quiny my scooter was excellent on the grass. I met a wonderful group of inspirational youngsters. I am already looking forward to next year!
Then it was back to training and focusing on the Nationals which were fast approaching. Unfortunately my body had other ideas and decided to through some new symptoms; one of them being a huge amount of pain. So off I went to the doctors and managed to get some pain meds to help. It meant that I could only ride for 10 mins and that was pushing it. Really not the best run up to the Nationals. So we found a way of conserving my energy; mum and Rob rode the boys for longer and I would just get on at the end and do as much as I could manage. On top of the pain I had new symptoms to deal with whilst on the horse, but the boys didn’t care and looked after me.
Even with everything that was going on Sky has been going amazing and we have been working hard on perfecting the test movements especially our 8m circles which have always been an issue! I have been riding Bear a few times but I am mainly focusing on Sky until after the Nationals.
Before long it was Nationals week the boys had new shoes and we were already to go, thanks to super farrier Ollie. We were going up on the Thursday afternoon as I was on very early the next day. Bear was not best impressed at being left at home but I told him it would be his turn next year!
I had a fantastic ride on Sky at the Nationals he looked amazing and felt amazing; a very good start considering our run up to this event. I felt there was still more to come but we would find that tomorrow. Sky settled in straight away and nothing seemed to phase him.
Rob went home ready for the early start the next day, me and dad had some dinner and then went to bed. It was time for the arena walk, very early o’clock. I was pleased to see that Sky had slept well and was feeling ready. He did the arena walk like a pro and we were ready to compete.
I cannot actually believe after everything that had happened that we were here so we are just going to go and enjoy the moment and see what happens. Sky warmed up like a pro for Rob and then it was my turn. I was riding in the arena with the world No.1 which was an incredible feeling. Even better as I was the Para rider I had the right of way so I could do whatever I wanted to and the other riders would have to avoid me!
It was time for the 5 minute arena before we were called to go down the centre line. I entered the arena with a big smile on my face and enjoyed every minute. Sky was incredible and helped me out and did everything that was asked of him if not more. I left the arena almost in tears; tears of joy and pain. My body was a real mess and had been showing off during my test but it didn’t affect the test thankfully!
I could not be prouder of Sky he is such a special pony and I love him. It was our best test to date; we all thought that so we just had to hope the judges agreed.
We went to put Sky away in his stable with lots of cuddles and extra carrots and polos!! We had a bit to eat and even the mascot Rupert thought that he should have some bacon! Then my trainer Rob said it was time to do the walk of shame to the score board! On our way there we came across a few other para riders and they kept saying well done. When I got to the score board I couldn’t believe my eyes we had won, we were Grade 1 Gold National champions with a score of over 71%!!
It was a dream come true and as I have said before I couldn’t be prouder of Sky but also of my whole support team who have had to deal with everything that has been thrown at me but have kept me going and kept me strong! Hard work really does pay off and it’s fantastic to be able to give something back to every single person that has helped me.
Prize giving was a fantastic event and even more special as it was mounted so I got to ride my National Champion. He was rightly proud and enjoyed doing his lap of honour with his rosette and sash on. It was an incredible feeling one that will stay with me for a very long time. Sky didn’t appreciate the long wait afterwards for all the press interviews though, but he was patient!
We had a good trip home and Sky enjoyed telling everyone in the barn that he was now a gold National Champion especially his brother, nothing like a bit of sibling rivalry!
Mum and me went back to the Nationals on the Saturday to watch some dressage and do some shopping and just have a girly day out.
We need to qualify for the winters before the weather changes and both boys just needed a few more points so we made the decision to do the qualifier at Windmill the following weekend. Poor Sky and me were still not fully recovered but he rose to the occasion and produced a good test to get over 70% so he’s all qualified now. He never goes his best at home so I am chuffed with this result. Bear stepped up and has qualified too, we just need to sort the contact with Bear as that is bringing our marks down, we have got everything else and the judges love him.
The icing on the cake was finding out that I am GLL Sport Foundations athlete of the month.
That’s all for this month I look forward to telling you all some exciting news next month.
Keeping horses is expensive – to keep them at the level of fitness required for competing at this level even more so. Mari has a fundraising page and, if you’d like to support her towards achieving her goal, she would be extremely grateful for donations of any amount. Please click HERE to help Get Mari to the 2020 Paralympic.s