A Plea from Mari Akhurst…

End of World Class…..end of my funding……end of an era……please help if you can……A plea from Mari Akhurst

How do I write this? I was selected onto the World Class Programme on 1st January 2020 after being selected for the European Para Dressage Championships and contributing to the team winning a silver medal and becoming a European Silver Medallist.

After two years I have not been renominated back on to the Programme sadly and so as from the end of this month I lose all my funding. This is extremely hard as I have worked really hard and done everything asked of me. Sadly the squad did not like Bear and so when Sky retired we found Damo but we just didn’t have long enough to build a strong enough CV!

I have also lost access to Bisham (The National Sports Centre) where I have been having weekly Physiotherapy and Strength and Conditioning sessions. If I am honest, I am not sure how I am going to cope without the weekly Physiotherapy sessions, but I am very lucky to be sponsored by a sports massage therapist Lee and so will still be able to have sport massages. Caryl and the team at Bisham have been an outstanding help especially when I lost the use of my left arm; they saw me twice a week and did all they could to ease the pain and to try and help me to get the movement back, a year later and all that hard work paid off and I cannot thank them all enough. I cried today leaving Bisham for the last time.

I am not in a position to be able to get a job as it’s just not realistic and my memory has deteriorated massively which means working again is not a possibility. Therefore I am seeking funding to enable me to keep training, competing and campaigning. If anyone would like to help however small please get in contact with me or if anyone has any ideas then please contact me again.

I am a public speaker and available for bookings. I am a European Silver Medalist striving towards selection for the Paris 2024 Paralympics!! I am a multi sport athlete having recently taken up Para Rowing alongside my Para Dressage. In my first proper event the British Indoor Rowing Championships I won gold in my section  Hear about my journey in Para Dressage from therapy to podium and my new Para Rowing adventure . Be inspired by my incredible journey and learn about what I can see happening in the future .

If you need a speaker at an event please do not hesitate to contact me (through my website or on my social media pages) if you would like to book or have any questions. Due to the current situation I am happy to deliver talks through online platforms such as zoom as well as in person. Please do not hesitate to contact me either to book or if you have any questions

I am waiting to get classified for British Rowing and then hope to be competing potentially representing GB. Its an amazing new adventure and after some serious hard work. I am now training six times a week doing a mixture of different sessions: such as 3 times weights, 2 times cross training Hand Bike, 2 times swimming, mobs and stretches, Standing Frame, and 3 times erging and of course my riding.

Doing adapted pull ups was something that I never thought I would be able to do, but nothing is impossible with determination you can make it possible! However you also have to be realistic and appreciate that I am living with a neurological condition and do still have an impairment in all four limbs; my legs don’t work anymore and my trunk is impaired.

So who knows what the future holds but with Paris fast approaching why not give it a shot in two sports!!

(Mari Durward Akhurst – Para Dressage Rider and Rower)

A Plea From Mari

DBF Note…

Mari Durward Akhurst is the most courageous and determined person imaginable. She was born with cerebral palsy affecting all four limbs, which has left her weaker down her left side. As a result of her CP, her co-ordination, balance and muscle tone are all affected. Sadly Mari’s condition has deteriorated but, rather than give up on her dream to compete for her country in Para Dressage, she – typically – upped the ante and trained even harder. In addition to the already gruelling physical training she was doing to improve her core strength, which is so important in horse riding anyway but more so if you have one-sided weakness for any reason, she took up rowing as an exercise. And found that she has an aptitude for that too! As a result, she is now pushing her body to its limits by training for both sports. This takes determination and sheer guts in the extreme; Mari is a true fighter.

Unfortunately, this admirable fighting spirit is now having to come to the fore in yet another way as you will have learned from A Plea From Mari Akhurst above. With her funding coming to an end imminently, all the years of work she has put in to getting to the top of her sport are at risk. Horse sports are expensive, especially when you’re maintaining a top level horse in competition fitness. It would, I believe, be an absolute tragedy if Mari had to give up the sport she loves, with the animals who have been her passion since realising her aptitude for riding while at school. School can be difficult and painful for people with disabilities and for Mari it was no different. What a joy for her to discover

Horses are my legs and together we excel… Mari Durward Akhurst

We first met Mari when she applied for a Bader Grant in 2017 and recognised immediately her extraordinary courage and commitment. We’ve shared her journey since then and watched with awe as she’s climbed the ranks in Para Dressage to being selected for the World Class Programme. She epitomises the Bader Spirit and we were honoured and delighted when she agreed to become a DBF Ambassador in 2018. She has continually fought to succeed and, never content to rest on her successes, finds new ways to challenge herself and her disabilities. Hence her venture into Motivational Speaking where her battle to succeed despite her condition is an inspiration in itself, and now into Rowing where again she will strive to get to the top.

It is desperately sad that the World Class Programme seemingly failed to see the huge progress she was making with her young horse, Bear, after Sky retired following his illustrious partnership with Mari, and have ceased to fund her. After much training and working together to build the rapport necessary to be a successful team, she is now doing wonderfully well with her new horse, Damo. Sadly, however, not in time to meet the criteria for the funding allocation.

A plea from Mari Akhurst would only come about in very exceptional circumstances. Please help Mari if you can, she really couldn’t have done more or pushed herself harder to create her own funding and make her own way. You can support her by booking her to deliver one of her motivational speeches or simply by donating to her forthcoming Fundraising Page. It would be wonderful if she could win the gold medal she’s been striving for for so long with, or without, the World Class Programme. The Mari/Damo partnership undoubtedly has the ability as you will see from the following post. Wouldn’t it be satisfying to be able to say that you helped someone so deserving on their way to becoming a champion…?

Mari is currently working on a new fundraising page and I’ll include details of this with the next, very uplifting, post! You can also contact Mari direct via her Facebook Page if you’d like to help.

Watch this space!

Links: (will open in new tabs)


PB for Mari and new partner

Some wonderfully positive news to share as we emerge from the shadow of lockdown. A PB for Mari and new partner, Damo. Not bad on just your 3rd outing together!

Para dressage rider and DBF Ambassador, Mari Akhurst, hasn’t been idle during the pandemic. She has kept her dream alive and worked incredibly hard with her usual determination to battle the worsening symptoms of her Cerebral Palsy, which leaves her with left-sided weakness.

Mari recently took up rowing, which has helped her with her core strength and she now looks noticeably stronger in the saddle. She also has a new partner, Damo, who stepped in when Sky, Mari’s dancing partner of many years,  retired following numerous events from which the pair had returned triumphant. Now, while Sky rests on his well-earned laurels, sunbathing under blue skies and grazing happily in his field, he can watch Damo working hard with Mari to build a partnership as successful as theirs. And so far it is going incredibly well…

On just their 3rd outing together, Mari and Damo (whose walk has to be seen to be believed – check out the video on Mari’s Facebook Page via the link below!) achieved a personal best for Mari, finally smashing the 80% barrier that had eluded her for so long! They scored an amazing 81.61% in the individual test, the highest para score of the day and Mari was awarded a 9 for her riding. This is a fantastic achievement and bodes really well for the future of this new partnership. Congratulations, Mari, all your hard work and determination is paying off! This success is so well deserved. Onwards and upwards for you and Damo.

(I think Sky has been whispering advice over the fence…)

PB for Mari and new partner

PB for Mari and partner. PB for Mari and partner

Links (will open in new tabs):

  • Mari and Damo strutting their stuff. Check out his amazing walk and other news on Mari’s Facebook Page.
  • You can see historic posts about Mari’s incredible journey HERE as well as in the Grant Recipients section of the website.



Keysoe CPEDI – Mari Akhurst

A couple of more belated than intended reports from our 2 Para Dressage Riders about their experiences at the Keysoe CPEDI (International Para Equestrian Dressage) Competition held earlier this month.

The first is from our DBF Ambassador, Mari Akhurst, who has also just returned from a very successful competition at the weekend with her horse, Sky.

Mari reports:

Sky was a superstar; we scored 75.536% to take the win and also the highest Para score of the day. That’s him all qualified for the Winter Para Dressage Gold Championships next year!

He was a star and we both enjoyed the test. What’s even more exciting is the judge said there was even more higher marks to come!! Plus we did have a 6 and 6.5 amongst the 7,7.5s and 8’s.

Congratulations to Mari and Sky. To add to Mari’s delight, her younger horse, Bear – featured below, has already qualified so Mari has the accolade of having 2 horses already qualified to compete in the Winter Para Dressage Gold Championships next year.

It’s going to be a busy year for the 4- and 2-legged members of Team Mari alike…!


Finally home after a week away at Keysoe CPEDI3*. I am so proud of Bear; he has been such a superstar⭐️. He has tried his heart out and not put a foot wrong. He was so relaxed; and really showed off his walk which has got so much bigger! We also showed off what a harmonious partnership we have.

Bear and friend relaxing in his stable
I have to say a big thank you to my whole team as without them this would not have been possible. To all my sponsors and supporters. My amazing parents for being with me every step of the way and supporting me this week. Rob for training me and Katie for coming to trot him up and for supporting us. Plus team trout rise for looking after Sky and all my family and friends. Finally thank you to the World Class Programme, National Lottery and UK Sport.
We showed that our hard work during lock down has really paid off. Bear is so much more supple, stronger and his walk has developed. He is now able to sit behind and lift and flick his toes. We also have managed to keep the poll up.

Keysoe CPEDI Mari Akhurst's rosettesUnfortunately due to my condition I struggle with a stable consistent contact; we thought we had found something that worked; not all the international judges agreed and I have been marked down for my wobbliness in my contact and also my position. I need to be more steady.Bear bless him puts up with my naughty limbs and keeps his head relatively still; but the pilot can’t keep still on top.

But on top of everything; gaining two 3rd places and a 4th isn’t bad especially with some pretty good scores to boot especially from the highlevel judges. I am sure our marks will be even higher once we sort out the pilot. (Mari Akhurst)
Keysoe CPEDI Mari Akhurst
Mari and Bear getting used to the arena
Keysoe CPEDI Mari Akhurst
Ring Practice with Bear


For those of you who are mystified by the classification in Para Dressage, I thought this might be helpful:


Mari Akhurst is offering a great opportunity for 2 young Para Dressage riders

Para Dressage Rider and DBF Ambassador, Mari Akhurst, currently mentors 2 young riders and is now looking for 2 more mentees to add to her team.

This is a great opportunity as I can’t imagine you’d find a more inspiring, supportive or harder working mentor than Mari, an opinion borne out by the accolade at the bottom of the post.

Read on for more information from Mari.

Fantastic opportunity……………. A chance to join my team as a mentee 😊

I am on the World Class Podium Potential Programme. I started riding with the RDA, then when I was eleven I got talent spotted and the rest is history. I currently mentee two young para riders who one day want to follow in my footsteps. I am also an Ambassador for two super charities and an Ambassador for Just Strong and a public speaker (motivational/inspirational).

I am a European Team Silver Medalist, I am striving towards selection for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics and going for gold! I still have the same goal just a slightly different end date!

I thought with a lot of us all stuck inside this would give everyone something to do. I am in a position to be able to take on two more mentees.

What I would offer:
– Skype/Facetime sessions every other month
– Support at competitions (depending on locations)
– General advice
– Goal setting
– Training tips
– A chance to appear on my social media pages monthly

And so much more.

How to apply? Tell me about yourself and your horses. Why you would like to join my team and what qualities you think you could bring to the team in no more than 400 words or a video sent to this inbox. If you have any questions or problems submitting your entry, please do not hesitate to contact me. Applications close 30th May 2020.

A glowing commendation from the mother of Elan, one of Mari’s young mentees: “Mari has been a valuable and positive mentor for Elan. Having a head strong dressage crazy 10 year old girl with quad cerebral palsy with millions of questions and thirst for feedback Mari is always on hand to offer support and guidance. No question has been too much for Mari and her knowledge helping us; we are very grateful. We feel we’ve known Mari for years! Mari will be a great guidance to Elan moving into para when old enough. She is in great hands. Thank you, Mari!

Link: (will open in a new tab)

To see more and to apply, please visit Mari’s Facebook Page

Rounding off Last Year and Looking Forward to This One – Mari Akhurst

(Apologies for the late posting. Mari sent this update at the end of last year. I delayed making the post live as we are in the process of having a new website designed and I had hoped to christen the smart new site with this lovely positive report. However, as the site won’t be ready until early next month and Mari’s not known for hanging about(!), I’m posting the update now. Knowing Team Mari, there will be plenty more good news for its arrival!)

Here is my yearly update:

Wow how do I sum up this year; it has definitely been my best year to date. Dreams have come true and I still cannot believe that I am ending the year as a European Silver Medalist; it shows that perseverance and hard work pays off.  None of what I have achieved would have been possible without my amazing support team, my family and all my fantastic sponsors and supporters.

Living with a changing condition has its challenges but my motto is “everything happens for a reason” and I’m a fighter!! I really enjoy inspiring others to get involved in Para sport in particular Para Dressage; this year acting as a mentor for two young para rider’s. I also enjoyed carrying out my role as an Ambassador for Arctic One and for the Douglas Bader Foundation (DBF). I started my public speaking journey this year which has been amazing and I cannot wait to build on this in 2020. I am so pleased that I can inspire others.

Sky has been a complete superstar and shown that age is not a barrier!! He definitely doesn’t act his age more his shoe size!! 3rd Winter Para Dressage Gold Championships (one judge had us in 1st) , Gold Semi Finals 1st team test 71%+ and Individual test 1st  72%+, Hartpury CPEDI3* (2nd Team and Individual to a Brazilian, won the Freestyle) Qualified for the Gold Nationals but took Bear instead so Sky could have a break after the Europeans! First competition back out after the Europeans and a 1st place with 72%+ beating a Paralympian on both of her horses.

We went abroad for the first time thanks to the Anders Foundation. It was an amazing experience and my class was huge with riders from all around the world.

My dream came true and I rode down the centre line for the first time with a red collar on. The Europeans was an incredible experience and I do not think I stopped smiling for the duration of the competition!!

Bear has grown up massively over the last year and I have got to grips with containing the power and turning the titanic! Highlights include coming 2nd to Sky at the Gold Semi Finals with 70%. Getting 73% in the Team and Individual test at qualifier competitions. Bear finished 2nd at the Gold Nationals (just missed 1st place as we had a small jog which was very costly). The International we were picked for didn’t go to plan for a number of reasons even though Bear was a superstar. We learnt from this and have been working extremely hard on the contact and now have a plan going forward.

In this most successful year to date I finished the year as an International Champion and a European Silver Medalist. Both horses have qualified for the Gold Para Dressage Winter Championships 2020.

I am so excited to see what next year brings!! Having been awarded a place on the World Class Programme at Podium Potential I will be striving towards selection for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics and going for GOLD!! Bring it on!!

(Mari Durward-Akhurst, Para-Dressage Rider and DBF Ambassador)

We wish Mari and her beautiful horses, Sky and Bear, a fantastic 2020 when that long-held dream of winning a gold medal at the Tokyo Paralympics becomes a deserved reality. Nobody could work harder or with more commitment than Mari. We are delighted to have been able to support her on this journey so far and can’t wait to see what this new year brings. More soon. Keep watching this space…

Please click on the link (it will open in a new tab) to visit Mari’s Facebook Page where you will find more news and information about this very talented young rider.

End of the Competitive Year Update from Mari

A very positive update from DBF Ambassador, Mari Akhurst, Para-Dressage Rider par excellence. After what has been a tough year in many respects, Mari has finished on a high as you’ll see from her report below. She should be hugely proud of herself and her equine team for battling through adversity and ending the year in style! Mari epitomises the Bader spirit and we’re very proud to be associated with her. 

Not content with all the hard work involved in looking after, training and preparing 2 horses to Championship level, Mari has recently added another string to her bow with her new venture; Inspirational Speaking. We can’t think of anyone better qualified to inspire others than Mari. If you’d like to contact her about this, please leave a comment for Mari on her Facebook Page. The link can be found at the bottom of this post.

Read on for Mari’s report on her very gratifying results and wait for more news in January!

As Tokyo is fast approaching yesterday marked 300 days to go my aim is to campaign both horses; with selection officially starting next year (still awaiting selection policy).

The last few major competitions with Bear have not gone to plan for one reason or another. He has qualified for the Winter Para Dressage Championships in just two outings. He also has two scores over 73% in the team and Individual test. Bear has shown people his potential and we have had some very positive feedback.

The British Dressage Nationals was Bears first major show there is nowhere else that has the same atmosphere as the Nationals, not even the Europeans. Bear was a really good boy but got a bit tense and a jog cost us the win; we still came 2nd!

Then onto Keysoe CPEDI3* Bear did three super tests and we were all delighted with him and the work we produced; sadly the judges didn’t agree. But that’s dressage for you and the subjective nature!

Due to my Ataxia I find having a stable contact and keeping my hands still extremely hard but we were really marked down on this at Keysoe.  So we have worked really hard and found a way that seems to be able to stabilise my hands and as a result Bear is a lot happier and walking out so much more as he has stable connection to walk into. I just need to get the classifiers to agree the adaption and then we will go out into competition and see what the judges think.

I took Sky to a local competition it was a winter qualifier but he has already qualified as he has a bye from competing at the Europeans. He felt on top form and scored 72.5% to take the win beating a triple Paralympian on both of her horses!! A great way to start our campaign with even more to come.

Mari Akhurst

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Mari’s Only Gone And Done It!!

Wonderful news! The extremely talented and unbelievably gutsy Para Dressage rider, Mari Akhurst, has achieved what recently looked like an almost impossible goal. 

With her equine partner, Sky O’Hara, on loan from Glesni Owen, Mari has been selected to represent Team GBR at the European Championships which will be held from 21-25 August in Rotterdam. Mari has worked incredibly hard to reach this goal, which couldn’t be more well-deserved; we are so proud of what she has achieved and, of course, will be rooting for her and the team in Rotterdam. 

You are a star team, Mari and Sky and a genuine inspiration!

Dreams do come true! Mari Akhurst

You can read the associated press release by clicking on the link: and I’m sure you’ll join us in congratulating Mari and her entire team on this great news.

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Mari Does it!

We’ve just had the best news from DBF Ambassador, Para Dressage Rider, Mari Akhurst: 

I am very pleased to tell you the news that Sky and I are on the list of nominated entries for Team GBR at the Europeans. 

Thank you all for your support.

Fantastic news, Mari! We couldn’t be more delighted or proud; you’ve worked so hard for this.

Link: (will open in a new tab):

More Uplifting News from Mari

Our inspirational DBF Ambassador, Para Dressage Rider Mari Akhurst, is having a fantastic year and is going from strength to strength with both her equine teammates, Sky O’Hara and Bear. 

It’s Sky’s turn to hit the limelight again after he and Mari turned in another fantastic performance, this time at Hartpury. Fantastic results like these are taking Mari ever closer to her dream of competing for Team GB in the Paralympics at Tokyo next year and there is no-0ne who could work harder to achieve their goal. This would be so well-deserved and we feel sure that with her incredible determination and dedicated back up team, Mari will be there.

See Mari’s report below.

Wow; how do I sum up the last week? I had an amazing time at Hartpury CPEDI3* with my team and my superstar Sky. The weather was glorious and Hartpury hosted us fantastically. Thank you to everyone involved and a big thank you to the chief steward.

Sky was on fire and produced 3 fantastic tests. In the Team test one judge had us to win with 76% and two 9s. In the individual the 5* judges gave me as high as 72%!! I was the highest place GB Grade 1 finishing behind a Brazilian (2nd) on the first two days and then beating them in the Freestyle! Hard work really does pay off. We rode the best individual test that we had ever done. It was fantastic to see the marks that we had from the 4*and 5* judges. The pilot was accurate for all 3 tests and was rewarded.


It was also great to be able to watch my trainer Rob Waine compete and to cheer him on. He had a fantastic show as well! Thank you to Rob for being amazing all week; we make such a good team. Thank you to mum and dad for being top grooms and carers and everything else and for my sister supporting us across the world!

A massive thank you to everyone who supports me and enabled me to compete at Hartpury.

The icing on the cake was winning the Freestyle on the last day by 2%. International Champions once again!! 🏆

Huge congratulations to Mari and Sky – we are so proud of them!

For more information, please check out Mari’s Facebook Page