Mari and Bear Reach New Heights

We’ve had wonderful news from DBF Ambassador, Mari Akhurst, a hugely committed and talented Para Dressage rider who is aiming for the top with her ambition to ride for Team GB in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. Mari was competing with her young horse, Bear, at the weekend and had the deserved joy of seeing her 4-legged protegé repaying all her hard work and faith in him by reaching new heights. Read on for Mari’s report on a fantastically successful weekend for Bear and Team Mari!

Mari has Cerebral Palsy, hyper mobility and lax ligaments. Her CP affects all four limbs and has left her weaker down her left side than her right. As a result, her coordination, balance and muscle tone are all affected. She has recently suffered a deterioration in her condition and her success is the result of enormous courage, commitment and determination. She is an inspiration and couldn’t deserve her success more.

A new venture for Mari is Motivational Speaking and I can’t think of anyone better qualified to inspire and motivate others. You can find out more via the link below.

What an amazing weekend we had. It was fantastic to be part of the Eastern team and we were made to feel very welcome. The team BBQ was fantastic and we all had so much fun.

First of all a massive congratulations to one of the Eastern Senior Inter Regional teams for taking the winning team spot, a very well deserved result and a fantastic result for the Eastern Region!!
The two Para teams came 7th and 3rd another fantastic result, well done to everyone.

I cannot put into words how proud I am of Bear this weekend ❤. He has been a complete superstar. We finished 1st Gold Grade 1, 2nd highest score on day 1, 2nd overall Grade 1 (B,S and G), highest overall gold rider and highest placed rider on my team on both days. Plus my team finished 3rd, so a podium place for us 😎😁.

We all knew that Bear had the potential and this weekend we showed that. Our hard work has payed off and our partnership has grown. Everyone commented on what an amazing walk he has (stride length and overtrack). Everyone loved him including the judges. Getting a personal best in the team test of 71.34% and one judge giving us 73%. Then on the second day getting 69.38% (they were marking lower on the second day). A lot of people thought that yesterday’s test should have scored much higher! Finishing with an overall score of over 70%!!

What is so exciting is that this is no where near the finished picture!! We had mistakes on the first day in the test and the second day our halts let’s say need some work!! But now we have the walk we can work on the other details. So the future looks very bright and exciting!!

Thank you to my team mates for making it so much fun and the team spirit was fantastic 😀. It was brilliant to be on a team with Sophie who I actually mentor and she did a fantastic job this weekend; I am very proud of her and April. It was great to have the Senior Inter regional alongside the PHI and to have a combined opening and closing ceremony. The support that we had from the whole of the Eastern Inter Regional team was fantastic, so a big thank you to them.

I am one very happy pilot and Bear is one very happy pony. We produced three super tests in a very big atmosphere with so much going on!! Thank you to everyone that helped me and mum on the first day. A big thank you to Greg and Sarah for helping me get on and off.

Finally thank you to mum and dad for being amazing I really couldn’t do this without them and we make such a good team. A massive thank you to all my sponsors and supporters. Thank you to Jo, Lotte, Katherine, Hayley and Mark for all your help and support. A big thank you to the team sponsor CU Phosco for your continued support of the Para riders we all looked fantastic in our numnahs and clothing.
A job well done!
A job well done!

Useful Links:

Update from Mari Akhurst and a Reminder About her Motivational Speaking


An exciting update from DBF Ambassador Mari Akhurst who had some really encouraging results with her young horse Bear last weekend, winning their first competition of 2019. 

Congratulations, Mari. The hard work really is paying off and all bodes really well for the future of this great team.

I think that the mutual trust and affection in this elegant horse and rider partnership is clear in the lovely photograph above of Mari with Bear.

I competed Bear at the weekend and he scored 71.1% and came 1st; this shows that our hard work over the winter months has paid off and what an exciting prospect he is. It was our first competition of 2019, so a great start. I will now be concentrating on my other horse Sky and our preparations for the International in Belgium. On our return I will be looking to get the remaining points with Bear to qualify him for the Gold Semi Finals he has 10 (after only two qualifiers) and needs 12 so we are pretty close.  Mari Akhurst, Para Dressage rider

Motivational Speaking: On another note, if you have an event coming up where a Motivational speaker would enhance the occasion, please remember that Mari is adding this string to her career bow and would be very happy to talk to and undoubtedly inspire guests. She has had to overcome many hurdles to pursue her dream of competing internationally and at the top level in Para Dressage. An immensely gutsy and determined person with a true love for her sport, Mari is a genuinely inspiring speaker, able to talk from her own experiences and adapt her Speech to suit various situations and venues.
Facebook Page: To see more about Mari, her 4-legged team and the hard work and dedication that goes into pursuing her dream of competing for Team GB at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, please follow the link to check out her Facebook Page

You Can Now Book Mari as a Motivational Speaker!

DBF Ambassador, Lady Bader Grant recipient and erstwhile Bader Grant Recipient of the Month, Mari Akhurst is adding another skill to her box of tricks. Already a very successful para dressage rider who will be competing for Great Britain in Belgium next month, Mari has decided to add motivational speaking to her repertoire. 

We have absolutely no doubt that this is yet another field where Mari will excel. She is one of the most determined and courageous people you could come across and however tough the going gets, never gives up. Her philosophy is always that things happen for a reason and she remains positive throughout. It was because of this inspiring, can do attitude so reminiscent of Sir Douglas’s own, that we invited her to become an Ambassador to the DBF and we were delighted and honoured when she agreed.

Mari has cerebral palsy, with added complications including ataxia and dystonia, that affects all four limbs and has left her weaker down her left side. As a result her coordination, balance and muscle tone are all affected. She experienced a worsening of her symptoms last year but has upped her physio and core strength training to help to counteract this and now with the aid of a wheelchair (waiting for a name!) to help her independence, pursues her long-term goal to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. As Mari says, she loves a challenge! She is a genuinely inspiring person and her motivational speaking would be the product of her personal experience and come from the heart. Having achieved so much herself and never giving up on her own dreams, she is now keen to inspire other people to follow theirs.

An excerpt of her speech follows below: 

During my life I have constantly faced many challenges along the way due to my disability but I have been able to overcome these. I believe that these challenges and the problem solving that I have had to undertake have made me into the person I am today I am constantly told that I am an inspiration and due to this I have decided it’s time to share my story with others and to inspire others to follow their dreams.
We all have dreams what you chose to do to reach those dreams is down to you; you have to make the best decision for yourself. I have one big dream/my ultimate dream and that is to win a gold medal in para dressage at the Paralympics but along the way I had smaller dreams. Such as competing at the Gold para dressage Nationals, winning the Gold Nationals and becoming an International Champion. Mari Akhurst

Mari will adapt her speech to suit the occasion so if you’d be interested in booking her to speak at an event or to a group, school or anywhere else you think her message could inspire, please contact her for more information by emailing: 


Funding: As you will have seen from a previous post, Mari has recently been invited to represent Great Britain abroad at Waregem CPED13* in Belgium in April bringing her another step closer to achieving her dream of competing in the 2020 Paralympics. She will have to self fund this – for now anyway – and has recently started a new GoFundMe Page where any contributions towards her goal will be very gratefully received: 

Facebook Page: You can check out news and updates and see some wonderful photographs and videos of Team Mari as they pursue their path to the top!

Blog: A great way of getting more in-depth news and a very honest and readable insight into Mari’s journey and her set backs and achievements along the way. 



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.