2017 – What a Year for Mari!

We couldn’t be more proud or delighted to announce that Mari Durward Akhurst, our first featured Lady Bader Grant Recipient of the Month, has had a phenomenal year. She has not only made great strides (literally!) with her young, upcoming horse, Bear, finishing in the top 6 overall, but is Grade 1 Gold National Champion with her other 4-legged team member, Sky. This phenomenal achievement was followed by selection to the British Equestrian Federation Excel Talent Programme and a British Dressage award where she was presented with a very stylish head collar for Sky to honour their success.

Below, in Mari’s own words is a summary of her triumphant year. 

Mari with some of the awards from her fantastic year
Mari with some of the awards from her fantastic year

Wow what a year it has been, where to start. I still cannot believe what me and the horses have managed to achieve this year but it would not have been possible without my amazing support team, my family and all my fantastic sponsors and supporters.

The Douglas Bader Foundation (DBF) has made a massive difference to my life and my sport as their grant has allowed me to have monthly strength and conditioning sessions at Performance Hertfordshire which has meant I have been able to keep my core as strong as possible so that I am still able to ride. It has also helped in trying to slow down my deterioration. Everyone comments on how much straighter I look in the saddle and judges have commented on how strong my core must  be to keep upright, let alone ride with all my other body parts flying around and misbehaving. I cannot thank DBF enough and am looking forward to working with them next year.

So the year didn’t get off to a great start with my trainer becoming unwell so I had to try and find another one and very quickly, as it wasn’t long until the Winter Para Dressage Championships. We were due to take both horses but made the decision just to take Sky.

When I got the news I had been selected to represent GB with both boys I was thrilled. We have had a long journey with Bear but to be taking him to his first International was an incredible feeling. It was Bear’s first ever International, his 2nd ever major competition, his first time at the venue and his first time staying away from home for more than 2 days. So as you can imagine we were just taking Bear so that he could get the experience and enjoy the event.

Mari with Bear and trainer, Rob, in April
Mari with Bear & trainer, Rob, in April

Bear was a superstar and took everything in his stride. I was thrilled with his results and to finish in the top 6 overall, definitely shows he has a very promising future in the sport, especially as we are not a fully established partnership yet! Sky strutted his stuff and went the best he has ever gone, yes we had a few little mistakes but it was a very big atmosphere. To come 2nd not just once but three times behind a triple Paralympic gold medallist was a dream come true. Not only that but to get over 70% on two of the days as well really did show all mine and my teams hard work had paid off. Never did I imagine coming in the top 6 with both horses!

We knew we still had more to give and so the preparation started for the BD Nationals. Sadly I could only take one horse and Sky had got the higher score at the Semi Finals so Bear had to stay at home We did not have the best run up to this event and I can honestly say that Sky looked after me and tried his heart out, it was an extremely harmonious test and showed what a good bond we have. We did our best ever test and I was crying when I came out, I was so proud of Sky and the test we had just done! Whatever the outcome I was happy and just hope we can create more tests like that one. Everything fell into place and clicked together which in a competition environment doesn’t always happen as there are outside distractions etc. and Sky listened to me 100%.

Champions! Mari with Sky
Champions! Mari & Sky lead the line up

I honestly couldn’t believe it when we read the scoreboard and found out that I had won, Sky and I were the Grade 1 Gold National Champions.  This was a dream come true and not only that but we had got over 71% with one judge giving us 75%. The Nationals is one competition that I have always wanted to win, the mounted prize giving and lap of honour were absolutely fantastic and it was great to have my trainer Rob there with me and my support team looking on.

I have recently been selected onto the British Equestrian Federation Excel Talent programme and I am hoping this will be a stepping stone onto the World Class programme.

I have enjoyed doing some speaking this year and attending events for my sponsors and the charities that support me. I most recently spoke to a group of guides about my story and my journey to where I am now and the fantastic Charity that is Arctic One, who I am very proud to be an Ambassador for. I was also invited to attend the Bucks and Mk Sports Awards as a guest and had an amazing time and heard some very inspirational speakers.

The results I have achieved this year have been incredible and really show that hard work pays off. With the continued deterioration in my condition it has not been easy but I have stuck with it and will continue to keep fighting. A lot of people have asked me how do you do it and that I am very inspiring but I have one motto and that is ‘everything happens for a reason’; I can do it as I have a goal and that’s to win a gold medal and until I do that I will not stop!

I am already so excited about 2018 and am really hoping we can step up another level, aiming for selection for a major championship this would be the absolute icing on the cake and would bring me a massive step closer to winning my first medal!

Mari Akhurst – December 2017

The British Dressage Awards 2017  (for full report please click on the link)

…a handful of this year’s top performing riders and successful individuals elsewhere in the sport were presented with awards to mark their achievements. BD Awards 2017

Worshipful Company of Saddlers – Head collars
Kindly donated by the Worshipful Company of Saddlers, the voucher for a saddle is given to the highest overall placed Para rider from all five classes at the LeMieux National Championships.
Awarded to: Mari Durward Akhurst (Grade 1), Izzy Palmer (Garde 4), Gillian Brown (Grade 5) as well as Amanda Shirtcliffe (Grade 3) and Georgie Wilson (Grade 2) who sadly couldn’t make the presentation.

(Above: Mari being presented with her award by Michele Assouline and Peter Storr at the BD Awards in November)


And the last word goes to Sky O’Hara proudly modelling the new and well-deserved head collar awarded by the Worshipful company of Saddlers to honour his (and Mari’s!) achievements through 2017. What a brilliant team!

Sky modelling his award
Sky modelling his award

Mari has Cerebral Palsy, hyper mobility and lax ligaments which affects all four limbs and has left her weaker down her left side than her right. As a result of her CP,  her coordination, balance and muscle tone are all affected. With recent deterioration in her condition to cope with as well, all Mari’s achievements are down to sheer hard graft and determination. She is an absolute inspiration, with the Bader spirit in spades, and we are delighted to have been able to support her on her journey so far. We have no doubt that she is going on to great things next year and is getting ever closer to achieving her goal of winning a Gold Medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics representing Team GB in the Para Dressage.

Go Mari!