New Year, New Season, New Challenges. 2018 Update from Mari Akhurst

Lovely to hear from our first featured Lady Bader Grant Recipient of the Month, Para Dressage rider, Mari Durward-Akhurst, who is pursuing her dream to compete with Team GB at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.

Mari had a fantastic year last year finishing 2017 in 6th position overall with her young horse, Bear, and as no less than Grade 1 Gold National Champion with the more experienced Sky O’Hara, kindly on loan by Glesni Owen. She also had the huge accolade of being selected to the British Equestrian Federation Excel Talent Programme and receiving a British Dressage award. This was an extraordinary achievement especially as Mari, who has cerebral palsy which affects all 4 limbs, leaves her weaker down her left hand side and affects her coordination, balance and muscle tone, had experienced a worsening of her symptoms towards the end of the year.

Mari has now started the round of qualifying competitions for 2018 and, as you will see from her report below, they could have got off to a better, or at least less adventurous, start!

Champions! Mari with Bear and Sky
Worthy champions, 2017! Mari with Bear and Sky

 I have just got back from Lancashire and the Para Winter Gold Championships. We headed there on Friday it was a very long way and took us over 5 hours. Sadly it didn’t go to plan when we arrived we had to take two lorries so we had just put Sky in his stable and dad was taking Bear down the lorry ramp and no one has no idea what happened but dad ended up on the floor and Bear the other side of him thankfully mum caught Bear. But dad had a very nasty cut on his head and had hurt his hip, so mum took him to A and E they glued his head and gave him a pelvis xray thankfully nothing broken. It was not a great start I am just so pleased dad is ok. Unfortunately the boys were stabled by themselves as Bear is so big he doesn’t fit in a temporary box and so when we took one of the other horses the other one was left alone and they had serious separation anxiety which wasn’t good. Dad wasn’t able to help me get on as he wasn’t feeling great and was having to use my pink walking stick to get around. So all in all a bit of a disaster!!


I think just going down the centre line was an accomplishment on its own and I have shown people that I can compete under extremely difficult circumstances. The second day Saturday didn’t go to badly both boys did two decent tests Sky got just under 71% and came 3rd and is now half qualified for the summers. Bear got just over 68% and also had a good number of points towards summer qualification.


Day three the championship day didn’t go to plan. Sky was very stressed and so made a lot of mistakes in his test which were very costly we still scored just under 67% and came 3rd. Which is a brilliant result considering everything and it was 3rd to a triple Paralympic gold medalist and a European Champion. Just such a shame as had Sky behaved we would of been right up at the top to be honest would of probably won the class. So its tough but the selectors were extremely complementary and said I did so well to persevere and that most riders would have given up. We are not going to take two horses again to a competition, we learnt a hard lesson. Sky was like devil child and wouldn’t stop screaming. Bear did a much better test on the second day but sadly the judges slammed him. He was such a good boy and didn’t put a foot wrong just wasn’t very relaxed. But we have spoken to lots of people and know exactly what we need to do and hopefully our marks will be on the rise soon.


Thankfully after another 5 hour journey (hate the m6)!! we arrived home very late last night safely. Think it could take me a while to recover!! Even with everything that went wrong I really enjoyed it and it was fantastic to be back in the competition arena doing what I love. I am also extremely proud of myself for dealing with everything and still being able to compete and coping with the boys in their tests event though they were uptight I was still able to ride every movement and do a good job. I am really excited about the summer championships and showing everyone what Sky and me can do and hopefully finishing at the top again!

(Mari Akhurst)

Videos: You can enjoy a couple of videos taken during the championships of Mari competing on both her beautiful horses:

I think you’ll agree they make a beautiful team too and that she got great performances out of both horses, particularly given the inauspicious start to their day!

Many congratulations to Mari and our thanks for sending in these great reports, which give such a fantastic insight into what’s involved in competing at this level particularly when you are frequently doing battle with your own body at the same time. We applaud Mari’s determination and courage and are so proud to have been able to help her towards achieving her dream. 

Links: You can find out more by visiting Mari’s Facebook Page and her great Website/Blog.  Keeping horses at championship level is expensive and if you’d like to support this very gutsy and determined would-be champion, visit Mari’s Fundraising Page  Get Mari to the 2020 Olympics. Mari is very grateful for any financial contributions.

You can read previous posts by Mari and those of other Grant Recipients on the News Page of the Bader Grants section of the DBF website.