Mari Akhurst Para Dressage Superstar

Mari Akhurst Para Dressage Superstar has been sending in some super positive updates culminating in news of great results at both Waregem and Hickstead.

We couldn’t be more proud to be associated with Mari, who is not only the bravest and most determined person you could meet but also a natural equestrian who has always had a wonderful rapport with horses. Mari has cerebral palsy and Ataxia and her condition is constantly throwing challenges at her. She meets these challenges head on and continues to train and concentrate on improving in the sport at which she already excels. When she was at school, Mari experienced bullying and horses started as a solace when she  became aware of her empathy with them, but became a passion when she discovered her natural ability as a rider.

Horses are my legs and together we excel Mari Durward-Akhurst Para Dressage Rider

Much time with much grafting and honing of her skills has passed since then and the results she is achieving now speak for themselves and bear out her statement as well as her total commitment.

The shape of things to come this year showed in the scores Mari and Athene notched up at only their second International – their most successful competition together. Then Mari said

Our partnership is really starting to blossom.

The scores: 77.167% Freestyle; 75.972% Grand Prix B; 73.820% Grand Prix A, boded very well for a successful year and this has so far proved to be justified.

Mari returned from competing with Athene Lindebjerg, kindly loaned by Di Redfern, at the 2024 Waregem CPEDI 3* competition with a fantastic tally of 4 medals! Gold, Silver and 2 Bronzes. And was rewarded with a generous collection of prizes for her efforts! She was delighted and full of praise for the beautiful Athene who had gone like a dream throughout.

(* For those of you who are interested in Para Dressage and would like to learn more about the grades, the competitors both human and equine(!) and get a sense of what it must be like to compete at one of these fantastic events, I recommend checking out the Waregem 2022 webpage. It’s full of fascinating insights and some lovely images. You’ll find the link at the bottom of this post.)

Mari Akhurst Para Dressage Superstar
Mari and a lot of well deserved prizes with trainer Rob and Athene Lindberg who looks as though she’s pondering whether the flowers might be for her!


Mari Akhurst Para Dressage Superstar
Mari and Athene Lindebjerg win Gold with the highest score of the day!

Following their success at Waregem, and the very welcome news that she had been accepted onto the Everyone Active Sporting Champions scheme for 1/5/2024 – 30/4/2025, Mari and Athene strutted their stuff at the I.C.E Horseboxes All England Dressage Festival Para Dressage competition at Hickstead and danced away with a Gold Medal and the highest score of the day! Mari reckons there’s even more to come especially when the pilot finds the centre line!

A fantastic result from an event that didn’t start well when torrential rain resulted in Mari and her beloved Quingo Scooter, “Quinny” , having to be rescued when the road to the stables flooded. Sadly it also put paid to her riding that day.


In what has been a busy month for Mari, there was also a visit to the Royal Windsor Horse Show. Mari reports

The sun’s not quite shining yet but the Pimms is flowing and lots of beautiful horses!!

Check out the great reel by Soho Equestrian on Mari’s Facebook Page (link below this post) for a feel of the atmosphere at this internationally famous event.

We all send huge congratulations to Mari Akhurst Para Dressage Superstar and her team, both 2- and 4-legged, on such a fantastic year to date. We are sure that it’s just the start of the most successful competition year yet for this indomitable and very talented athlete.

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Feature image. I didn’t want Mari’s horse, Damo, currently in training, to feel left our of all this talk of competition and medals so thought it’d be nice to include him having a peaceful rest in his stable. Well, somebody’s got to do it!

Update from Mari

DBF Ambassador, Mari Akhurst, has been in touch with a wonderfully positive update for this new(ish) year. So, herewith, an update from Mari!

Most of you will know her, but for those who don’t, Mari is a para-dressage rider who received a Bader Grant from us in 2017 (how does time pass so fast – it doesn’t seem possible…). She has cerebral palsy with accompanying left sided weakness and has long pursued a dream to reach the top in para dressage. Her love for horses started early; she was bullied at school for being different but discovered that she was very good at riding.

Horses are my legs and together we excel – Mari Durward-Akhurst, Para-Dressage Rider

In the time that we’ve known Mari she has shown absolute determination to achieve her goal of representing her country and securing a medal at the Paralympics, and has displayed huge courage and commitment in the face of whatever challenges have presented themselves. DBF originally awarded her a grant to assist with strength and conditioning sessions and her physical trainer said that she hasn’t known anyone to work so hard! Having seen videos of some of the sessions  (you can see them in previous posts on the website and will find a link at the bottom of this page) I can tell you they look gruelling! Mari has climbed steadily up the rankings, winning or being placed in qualifying competitions on Sky O’Hara (now happily retired!); her young horse, Bear; Damo, the newbie, and most recently on the brilliant mare, Athene, who has been loaned to her by Di Redfern. That in itself a great endorsement of Mari’s riding ability.

Update from Mari
New mentees; Fils Marriott and Seran
New mentees: Nicola and Squid

In addition to training and competing herself, Mari has been mentoring young riders and has just taken on two more to work with, Fils Marriott and Nicola. Fils and her horse, Seran, are a Grade 1 Para Dressage partnership and Nicola and Squid (who loves cuddles and ear scratches) are climbing the ranks after winning their RDA regional qualifier with over 80% and securing two titles at the RDA National championships.

Congratulations to Fils and Nicola and Seran and Squid on being selected to join Team Mari! We can’t think of a better person to be associated with and wish you all luck and success ongoing.

In this update from Mari, she reveals how she has started the year in great style by achieving the first part of her dream. As of 1st January she has been accepted onto the World Class Programme at podium potential level.  This is so well deserved and really represents a fantastic opportunity for Mari. We are keeping our fingers firmly crossed.

She is practicing hard and she and Athene will face their first competition in March. Please keep your fingers crossed for them.

Update from Mari
Mari, Athene and trainer, Rob Waine

Always one to keep challenging herself, Mari has also started attending events as an inspirational / motivational speaker and is certainly qualified to inspire. She is the most gutsy, positive and determined woman you could ever wish to meet. Please contact us if you’d like to know more about booking Mari for one of your events. She also has fantastic empathy with horses and this shows in the relationships between her and her equine partners. The mutual trust is clear in them all and it is always a joy to watch Mari riding in her videos and see that sensitivity flowing down the reins. She is one of those people who, as my mother would have said, “looks good on a horse”!

Keeping horses to competition standard is extremely expensive and Mari has been almost totally self-funding in her pursuit of the reaching the top of her sport. She has a fundraising page and the link will be added to this page shortly. Other useful links will be found at the bottom of this page.

Behind the scenes – Sylvester believes relaxation is important…
Update from Mari
…and Damo enjoys a massage














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Mari and Athene make a star team

Some wonderful news – and images – from Para Dressage Rider, Mari Akhurst. Mari and Athene make a star team and have had a fantastic competition at The Nationals in Somerford, winning Grade 1 Gold National Champions and gaining the highest para score of all the classes.

Mari and Athene make a star team   Mari and Athene make a star team

This is an incredible achievement and the icing on the cake for this relatively new team. Mari’s no stranger to success and previously had an excellent partnership with Sky O’Hara. Sky, still fighting fit and enjoying his competitions was considered too old to compete at the highest levels and is now enjoying his retirement, so her young horse, Bear, was groomed to follow in his hoofsteps! Sadly, while they achieved good results, the judges didn’t take the giant Bear to their hearts and Mari’s progress to the top and to her dream of competing for her country at the next Paralympics reached a plateau. She was then offered the ride on Diane Redfern’s beautiful mare, Athene Lindebjerg, and the pair bonded, forming the great partnership they are now.

Mari and Athene make a star team

DBF Ambassador, Mari, was feeling well below her best at The Nationals and it’s a mark of the understanding between horse and rider that they still performed so well. The result is even more remarkable as gutsy Mari had just come out of a 2 week stay in hospital where she was battling an infection. Respect, Mari, you are a hero!

When you see the pictures of them in action, there’s no doubt that Mari and Athene make a star team. They look wonderful together and it will be exciting to see how far their partnership can take them.

Mari and Athene make a star team
Mari, Athene and trainer, Rob Wine.  Congratulations to you all!

What a day; Athene was incredible and looked after an extra wobbly pilot. I’m so proud of myself and my team for getting me to the Nationals! Mari Durward1Akhurst, Para Dressage Rider


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Spitfire and Mari’s Adventure

We first met Mari Akhurst when she approached DBF for a Bader Grant towards the cost of physical training to improve her core strength and benefit her para-dressage riding.

Mari has Cerebral Palsy affecting all limbs. As well as having a great affinity with horses and being a naturally gifted rider, she is also the most committed and determined athlete you could meet. We were honoured when she agreed to accept our invitation to become a DBF Ambassador. In the same spirit, as the symptoms of her CP had worsened, and having turned in some excellent times on the rowing machine she decided to take up rowing and discovered that she had a real aptitude for the sport.

DBF had also been approached by Marlow Rowing Club for a Bader Grant to enable them to buy an additional boat for their strong Adaptive and Para-rowing programme. Through some wonderful serendipity we were able to provide 2 boats, which were ceremoniously christened “Lady B” after Joan Bader, the late widow of Sir Douglas, and “Spitfire” for the plane that Sir Douglas, despite being a double amputee, piloted with such success in WW2. You can find out more about this via the link beneath this post.

Spitfire and Mari’s adventures had begun!

You can read more of Mari’s earlier rowing adventures by following the link at the bottom of this post but suffice it to say here that – again – Mari’s determination has paid dividends in the form of not just one but 2 Gold Medals as you will see from her article below.

We are so proud of what Mari has achieved and continues to achieve. She is a genuine inspiration with a wonderfully positive attitude to life that many could learn from.

She is happy to share that inspiration through her successful motivational speaking. If you’d like to arrange for her to speak at a venue or event, please contact Wendy McCleave (email link below), or comment at the bottom of this post and we’ll put you in touch with Mari.

Read on for Mari’s thoroughly enjoyable and inspiring blog about Spitfire and Mari’s adventure to Ireland…

 Spitfire and Mari’s Adventure to Ireland for the Home International in Lough Rinn

Spitfire and Mari's AdventureSpitfire was due to be picked up from Marlow Rowing Club on Tuesday by Dez and loaded onto the Welsh trailer ready to catch the ferry to Ireland on Thursday morning. My Dad and I helped load Spitfire, my oars, rigor waved goodbye as Dez headed off to his next pick up. A huge thank you to Dez for transporting Spitfire. 

It was time to pack as Dad and I were heading off to Ireland on Thursday morning. Last few training sessions on the rowing machine and we were good to go. I decorated Genie, my wheelchair, with the Welsh colours on her wheels.

 The Welsh team were meeting at Henley to meet our coach. My friend Rebekah met us at our house and mum dropped us all off. It was a long coach drive to Holyhead; we had one stop and lots of traffic! But we made it in time to catch our ferry across to Dublin. 

 We had a smooth crossing and enjoyed dinner with the rest of the Welsh team. We Spitfire and Mari's Adventurearrived in Dublin at about 12pm so we were all really tired, found our Irish coach and then fell asleep! We had a 2 and a half hour journey to Carrick on Shannon which is where we would be staying for the duration. When we arrived, it was 3am so we found our accommodation and went straight to bed.

As we arrived so late, we were allowed to have a little lie in before breakfast at 8:30. Me and dad Spitfire and Mari's Adventurewere staying in the Carrick Plaza Suites as the room was accessible and they were very excited to have the Welsh Rowing team staying. All of the team were staying in three separate places, so we all had breakfast and dinner in one place at the Bush Hotel which was central for everyone. It was a short push from where we were staying.

 Quick breakfast and then back on the team coach to go to Lough Rinn which was about a 20-minute coach journey. 

We arrived and found our team tent which is where the Welsh team would be situated alongside England, Ireland and Scotland, the other nations. 

I found Spitfire and we re-rigged her ready to row, then Rebekah and I took the para boats to get acclimatised to the water.  James and dad put Spitfire on the water; I put in all the Spitfire and Mari's Adventurenecessities and then got in. As I am a PR1 James and dad came out on a safety launch with me. It was over 2k to row up the water to get to the start line, but the water was nice and flat. I arrived at the start line and turned onto the course ready to row 2k back, there was a slight wind which was blowing me to the left. I didn’t hit any buoys and did a mixture of steady state and race pace bursts. I got off the water feeling confident; Spitfire and I were ready to race tomorrow. 

Spitfire and Mari's AdventureWe had a packed lunch provided by Welsh Rowing. We had a chance to do a second water session if we wanted, the weather was rather wet and due to the extra pushing, I had been doing I decided not to. We watched the other Welsh rowers. Genie was fantastic and made it possible for me to push myself with dad’s help where I needed to go. She fitted perfectly onto the coach too.  We then tied the boats down for the night; the team coach arrived, and we went back to our accommodation. Spitfire and Mari's Adventure

A quick change and then off to team dinner at the Bush Hotel; we had a lovely dinner, followed by the kit presentation. Then it was off to bed as we had an early start the next day.

Up early and off to breakfast before catching the team bus 15 minutes later. The weather forecast didn’t look great but thankfully there was no wind! We all arrived at the team tent and first up was group photos when it started drizzling. 

Spitfire and Mari's Adventure

Soon after the racing started the first race was won by one of the juniors representing Wales. Time seemed to fly and before long it was time for me to boat. I boated 30 minutes early to give me plenty of time to have a gentle paddle up to the start line. Spitfire and I were ready to race! Having only raced once before the stake boat starts can go either way! Thankfully this time having had experience I managed to line myself up first time. But we did have to paddle for about 7 minutes before I got attached. There was a slight wind at the top of the course and my boat kept going left, as the starter said go, my boat drifted left so, I didn’t have the best start. I was racing a PR2 who is up a classification to me, so they had to wait for 40 seconds; to make the race fair. I powered away and just kept strong and long and realised near the 500-metre mark that I was going to win. As I crossed the line and heard Wales being shouted very loudly, I couldn’t quite believe that I had won and by a big margin. My time was a racing PB and with more to come I was happy. Spitfire had won his first International 2k race! It was time to de-boat and watch my friend Rebekah’s whose race was after ours; she came 2nd and did fantastically in her first ever 2k.

 We were very lucky with the weather and although we had no sun we also hadn’t got wet at this point. All winners had to Spitfire and Mari's Adventurereport to the prize giving. It was quite far away and not suitable for my wheelchair to get to so we had a car ride over there. So, Genie, me and the Welsh flag made our way over there. It was incredible I got my medal, and the Welsh dragon was raised and then I had the Welsh National anthem; I was smiling like a Cheshire cat. It was incredible and lovely to have the Welsh supporters singing along. Short car journey back to the Welsh tent and it was time for lunch.

Suddenly it was very humid, and it was time to boat again for the 500 metres; this time I boated 15 minutes early as we were going to be racing from the 500-metre mark on the 2k course. Which was fantastic as that’s where the grandstand was and so all the supporters could see and cheer even louder, which massively helped.

I started rowing up and just as I got to the 1k mark the sky went pitch dark; the heavens opened and I found out that there was a delay with starting the races as they had a problem with the stake boats. It turned into a 30 minute delay and I have never been so wet or cold. By the time we started racing it had stopped raining, but I had so much water in my boat and was very cold. The PR2 only had to wait 7 seconds this time; I had a good start and powered off. Unfortunately, my boat was really going over on one side and I momentarily had to stop as I caught my blade however I made it to the end of the race and I had won again; delighted with that result. 

I was absolutely knackered and when Spitfire was turned upside down when I had got out there was lots of water flooding out! Rebekha’s race was due to be next but due to a very long delay; she didn’t race for another 30 minutes! The car park was under water; Spitfire was derigged and put on the trailer ready to leave Ireland tomorrow. Rebekah’s race finally started and again she finished 2nd which was a good result as she was so wet and cold due to the extra delay she had!

Spitfire and Mari's AdventureUnfortunately, the heavens then opened and so it wasn’t possible to make the second prize giving, so James kindly picked up my medal. We sheltered under the tent cheering on the last few Welsh rowers before catching the coach back to the hotel; we were all soaking wet.  We headed for a dinner held by the Irish in a local town hall we had a nice Indian and then headed back to our accommodation to get dry!

It was then decided that the Senior Welsh Rowing team would go out for an Indian to celebrate our results. The only problem was the steps, but they said they had a plan, and they did! Two guys lifted me and Genie up two flights of stairs and then four more steps and then down again at the end; we should have videoed it. Spitfire and Mari's Adventure

We had a lovely meal and then headed to bed as I was absolutely knackered. 

 The next day we were going home but not until 3:30 so we had the morning free. We had breakfast and then did some sightseeing; we went for a walk one way but then ended up just doing a figure of 8! Spitfire left on the Welsh trailer and made her way towards the ferry. We then chilled out before getting onto the team bus and heading to Dublin ready to catch our evening ferry.

Spitfire and Mari's AdventureWe had dinner on the ferry again, but it was very rough, and I didn’t feel too good! I went for a wander but couldn’t even wheel straight and we went outside which was nice to have some fresh air although it was very windy and wet! We saw a lot of rain while we were in Ireland! The ferry seemed to take forever but finally we were on still land and found our coach. We then had a long driver from Holyhead to Henley it was 12pm. Thankfully it was very comfortable, and we were able to have some sleep; we arrived back at Henley at 6am.

I was exhausted and felt rough so went straight to bed. 

Dez dropped Spitfire the winning boat back at Marlow on Monday morning; thanks, Dez. Spitfire has now had a rest and I am excited to get back in her to do some more rowing soon. 

A huge thank you to Welsh Rowing; James for all his coaching and support, Dan and everyone else. We had the loudest supporters; I had an amazing time in Ireland with the team and Spitfire. It felt amazing coming home with two gold medals. 


Spitfire and Mari's Adventure


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2023 update from Mari Akhurst

We’ve received news from several of our our lovely Bader Grant Recipients, which I’ve been waiting to add to our smart new website.

Here is an exciting 2023 update from Mari Akhurst, Para Dressage Rider

Bader Grant recipient and DBF Ambassador, Mari, who has cerebral palsy, has been achieving great things in the world of para dressage with her beautiful horses. First was her extraordinarily successful partnership with Sky O’Hara, who had been kindly loaned to her by owner, Glesni Owen. This venerable competitor reluctantly reached retirement age after helping Mari to achieve numerous victories and is now, deservedly, living the life of Riley back with his owner. Mari then competed with her young horse, Bear, who she’d brought on brilliantly but who, sadly, didn’t charm the judges as Sky had managed to do! Damo arrived to help and he and Mari have been competing with great success. Then Mari had the break her determination and courage in the face of some worsening symptoms deserved when Di Redfern offered her the opportunity to ride her beautiful and super talented mare, Athene. In this 2023 update from Mari Akhurst you’ll see that the results are already incredibly promising and bode very well for Mari’s long standing dream of competing at the top level for her country.

Mari writes:

I would like to thank Di Redfern for giving me the incredible opportunity to ride Athene Lindebjerg. She is a lovely mare and I’m really looking forward to developing our partnership and excited to see what the future holds for us.
In our second competition, in gale force winds, we achieved 78.95% in the Grand Prix test B with three 9s. A big thank you to Rob, my mum and dad and to Frankie and everyone at South Bucks for their help and support. Athene’s now qualified for the Gold Semi Finals.
Congratulations to Mari on a wonderful vote of confidence from Di Redfern. We wish this hugely talented new partnership the very best of luck and success in their ongoing quest to Reach for the Sky!
Please note that Mari, who also acts as a mentor for other young para dressage riders is available as an inspirational public speaker. Please contact us if you’d like to know more – the link is at the bottom of this post.
2023 update from Mari Akhurst
Keep an eye out for updates from some of our other Grant Recipients. We are so proud to have been able to support these determined and very committed individuals.
We’ve shifted our focus slightly post our 40th Anniversary to offer more Bader Grants so please check out the link below if you’d like to apply for support to follow your own dream. We consider all applications and love to see initiative and original requests.

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Merry Christmas from Mari and team

Merry Christmas from Mari and team! It seemed fitting that Para Dressage Rider, Mari Akhurst, should have the last word before the holiday.

Merry Christmas from Mari and team

Ambassador, Mari, who has cerebral palsy and one-sided weakness, has been a wonderful support to the DBF and has certainly had a year to be reckoned with. Not only has she been very successful competing in Para Dressage but she also discovered an aptitude for rowing which very nearly had her competing for her country at the sport, despite only having taken it up very recently. An extraordinary achievement. Very sadly for the first time, undoubtedly due to nerves while being assessed, Mari dropped an oar and wasn’t selected. You would think (hope?) that people doing the assessing in these situations would make some allowances when confronted with the evidence of talent and the probability of nerves and give someone another chance. Sadly that was not to be this year but who knows what next year may bring. The extraordinary thing was that Mari only took up rowing initially to improve her core strength to improve her riding!

Mari has done particularly well over the past year with her new horse, Damo. They’ve gradually built up a strong bond and now the trust between horse and rider is evident and a joy to see. They have formed a formidable team. Mari’s big young horse, Bear, is being brought on gently, doing well and looking like an exciting prospect, while Sky, her erstwhile star partner looks on from the luxury of retirement where he is apparently enjoying the Yorkshire mud a bit too much! He’s certainly earned his leisure.

Damo seems to have stepped up to be a worthy successor to Sky and he and Mari finished the year with 3 International titles: Grade 1 Gold National Champion; Grade 1 Gold Semi Final Winner and Grade 1 Gold National Champion. They also gained 3rd place at Keys CPED13* and 2nd Hartpury 3* International Freestyle. Congratulations to them both with carrots and pats on the back where appropriate! Bear, meanwhile, has been coming on well and is ready to start competing seriously so the future is looking bright for Team Mari. And it couldn’t happen for a more determined and courageous young rider. She has the guts to go with her natural talent and absolutely deserves to succeed. She is an inspiration.

It may be worth adding here that Mari also does public speaking and would be delighted to accept bookings. Please get in touch if you’d like to know more about this.

Merry Christmas from Mari and team! Here is a brief recap of her extraordinary year in images:

Merry Christmas from Mari and team
In the training room…


Merry Christmas from Mari and team
Damo having a well earned rest


Merry Christmas from Mari and team
Mari’s rowing achievements being acknowledged


Merry Christmas from Mari and team

Merry Christmas from Mari and team
A rowing award…


Merry Christmas from Mari and team
…leads to wearing the Welsh Team shirt


Merry Christmas from Mari and team

Merry Christmas from Mari and team
A moving reunion with Sky O’Hara – the bond remains evident


Merry Christmas from Mari and team
Mari and Sky share a moment


Congratulations, Mari!


Merry Christmas from Mari and team
Bear showing that Sky’s not the only one who likes mud!


Merry Christmas from Mari and team
Well, it’s obvious to us but for a horse it needs investigating!

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  • Previous DBF posts – To check out Mari’s progresss
  • Mari Facebook Page A great insight into the life of a dedicated Para Dressage Rider
  • Contact DBF if you’d like to know more about Mari’s Inspirational Public Speaking or book her to speak at your event

Mari’s Double Success!

DBF Grant Recipient and Ambassador, Mari Akhurst, now has the dilemma of excelling at 2 very different sports! Mari’s double success came as the result of discovering an aptitude for rowing as well as riding…

Mari, a Para Dressage Rider, competes at Grade 1, the most impaired, level. She was doing really well at her sport and just missed being selected to join the British Team last year when her long-term equine partner, Sky O’Hara, with whom she had had numerous successes and great accolades from various judges, was retired. (Apparently he’s thoroughly enjoying his retired status and Mari and her family are regular visitors!) Sadly the judges didn’t take to Mari’s young horse, Bear, so well despite the fact that he seemed to be coming on beautifully under Mari and her team’s gentle and knowledgeable guidance. She was fortunate to find a new horse, Damo, who has advanced in leaps and bounds. They now form a formidable team and have been getting some fantastic results, most recently being awarded National joint Grade 1 Gold National Champion – a huge achievement for Mari in a relatively new partnership and taking place in a very busy atmosphere with loose horses thrown in for good measure! A big test for a young horse. This result means that Mari and Damo end the year as winter National Champions, Gold Semi Final Winners and now Gold National Champions. Huge congratulations to Mari and Damo on this amazing set of results. What a wonderful way to end the season.

You can see a video below of Mari and Damo dancing their way through their test to become Gold National Champions.

However, it doesn’t stop there…Mari, who has Cerebral Palsy and one-sided weakness (see previous posts via the link below this one for more information) was experiencing a worsening of some of her symptoms and also increasing weakness. She decided in true Mari style (she has fighting spirit in abundance!) that far from giving up, she would find a way to work on and improve the core strength that is so important for riding. Never one to take the easy option, she took up rowing! (Link to post at a the bottom of this page.) Not only did this incredibly tiring sport produce great results in increasing her core strength as she’d hoped, but it very quickly became apparent that she had a huge aptitude for it! She began practicing seriously in Spitfire, the boat provided for Marlow Rowing Club via the DBF Grant Scheme and, on the advice of the wonderfully supportive Para Rowing Team at Marlow, was soon successfully partnering Spitfire in competitions and may have done enough to get selected to represent Team GB in Para Rowing as well…

You can see Mari in action with the aptly named Spitfire through the Instagram link below:

Mari’s double success means that she must now wait to see if she makes the rowing team and if she is selected to represent GB in Para Dressage next year. Both decisions will impact on where and how she progresses from here and both will bring their own rewards and challenges.

We are so proud of Mari whose positive and indomitable attitude is an absolute inspiration.

More to follow shortly – keep watching this space!

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Indomitable Mari takes on rowing

Our wonderful DBF Ambassador, Mari Durward Akhurst, who you will have come across on this website as a very accomplished Para Dressage Rider, has added another string to her bow.. .

Please be sure to read Mari’s wonderful blog: HOME INTERNATIONAL REGATTA; SPITFIRE’S FIRST INTERNATIONAL ADVENTURE by following the link at the bottom of this post. It’s a great read with some lovely accompanying images. It gives a good feel of what it must be like to row 2Ks and to keep pushing even when your body is probably silently screaming at you to stop immediately and go and relax in a hot bath!

Mari is a true inspiration and we are so proud to have her support.

Indoitable Mari takes on rowing
It’s official!


Indomitable Mari
Mari with the Welsh Dragon!

Mari, who has cerebral palsy, found that her condition was worsening but being Mari, who is nothing if not determined, she decided to improve her core strength, so important for riding, by…rowing! She joined Marlow Rowing Club, which has a wonderfully supportive para rowing programme and it soon became clear that she had huge ability. This was acknowledged by her being recognised as the No. 1 Para Rower in her category – an extraordinary achievement after such a short time in the sport. Recent DBF Grants had helped to enable Marlow Rowing Club to acquire 2 boats, “The Lady B” and “Spitfire“, named in honour of Sir Douglas and Lady Bader (see the link at the bottom of this post for more information) in a warm hearted ceremony attended by DBF representatives, Keith Delderfield, his wife Jess and Wendy McCleave. Mari was able to practice in “Spitfire“; they made a great partnership and she was selected to row for Wales in the Senior Womens Team HIR-R (Home International Rowing Regatta) which took place on Saturday 23rd July. Mari reported that it was very windy and a slow race but that the came in 2nd. Pretty good going on her first attempt at 2K!

Indomitable Mari takes on rowing, finds she excels at it, ends up representing Wales in a Home International Rowing Regatta and comes in 2nd. All within a year…

Now excelling at 2 very different sports – what a superstar she is!

Below you can see 2 videos of Mari practicing in “Spitfire“.


Mari has written a great blog about her experience and you can read it here by clicking on the link below.

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Super June for Para Dressage rider Mari

It has been a Super June for Para Dressage Rider, Mari Durward Akhurst.

Mari, 28, is a Grade 1 (the most impaired) Para Dressage rider competing at National and International level. She has been National Champion 6 times, is a triple International Champion and European (team) Silver Medalist. After a difficult time last year, when her long time, much loved equine partner, Sky O’Hara with whom Mari had had a wonderfully successful partnership, retired, Mari is going from strength to strength this year and this last month alone has seen so many special moments.

There was an emotional visit to Sky who is apparently thoroughly enjoying being a gentleman of leisure and who was clearly very happy to see his human partner again too! This beautiful photograph so clearly shows the unbreakable bond between them.

Super June for Para Dressage rider Mari

Mari’s new, young horse, Damo, is settling down and all Mari’s patience, empathy and hard work with him is clearly paying dividends. He partnered Mari to become Grade 1 Gold Semi Final Winner/Champion ensuring them both a place at the Gold Nationals in September. This is the biggest competition on the British Dressage Calendar and a huge achievement for Mari and a young and inexperienced horse to be selected. It is a testament to the empathy she has always felt to horses that Damo was able to overcome his nerves at being in such a new, scary situation.

Damo you have made me so proud this week in a huge atmospheric arena […] I am so proud of you. Mari Durward Akhurst, Para Dressage Rider

Super June for Para Dressage rider Mari

After an amazing performance at Wellington, this exciting new partnership as also been selected to represent GB at Hartpury CPEDI3* (the venue of their first competition together) at the beginning of July and Mari will be sporting her new GB helmet.

Mari was also named as a Sporting Champion, which will give her access to a gym and swimming pool – a great help for her fitness training.

Bear, Mari’s beautiful BFG, is back in action and going really well after a break. We’ll undoubtedly be hearing more from him very shortly…

All of the above is so well deserved. Mari is the most determined, committed, courageous person you could meet. Her philosophy is that whatever happens happens for a reason and she remains positive and focused whatever life throws at her. She is a true inspiration. It is wonderful to see that her indomitable attitude is paying off. We first met Mari when she successfully applied for a Bader Grant and we subsequently invited her to become a DBF Ambassador. We were honoured and delighted when she accepted. We are so proud to be associated with Mari.

Links (will open in new tabs):

  • To find out more about Mari’s journey please click on the LINK.
  • Check out Mari’s Facebook Page for more news and information