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  • Writer's picturePhil Packer

5 x National Champion and 3 x International Champion, Mari Durward-Akhurst, joins the BRIT family

We are delighted that Mari has joined our BRIT Ambassador family.

Mari is an international Para Dressage rider and a five time National Champion, Triple International Champion and European silver (team) medallist. Mari is currently training and preparing to represent Great Britain at the 2021 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

Mari Durward-Akhurst - Five time National Champion, three time International Champion & European medallist

“Having lived with a life changing condition, been bullied at school because of my disability, and as a former student, I know that many young adults suffer with mental health challenges. I am thrilled to be joining the BRIT Ambassador family to support and improve young adult mental health throughout the UK.

COVID-19 is having an impact on the lives of many young people; especially those who are vulnerable, living with disabilities and who have limited mobility. Mental health services are under increasing pressure and one in four young people were unable to access the mental health support they need during the lockdown in 2020. Unless they receive professional support, these young adults will endure long-term mental health effects that will affect their health, studies and future employment.

The British Inspiration Trust’s BRIT 2021 Challenge is an exciting UK-wide opportunity for students and young adults of all abilities to unite as university and college teams (at home or on campus) and take part in a feel-good fundraiser. By embracing the BRIT 2021 Challenge, they will be raising vital funds for charities who support young adult mental health; PAPYRUS – Prevention of Young Suicide, Nightline Association, Student Minds, The Charlie Waller Trust and BRIT. This means that all donations raised by the BRIT 2021 Challenge will be shared equally between the five mental health charities.

To encourage universities and colleges to enter teams, and support young adults and students taking part in the BRIT Challenge, we need current and retired Olympians, Paralympians and sports personalities to come together and lend their support to BRIT. I am excited to share the opportunity to join the BRIT Ambassador family with my fellow Great Britain riders, so that we can come together as a Great Britain Equestrian family and support young adult mental health throughout the UK.

I look forward to encouraging and supporting students and staff at the University of Hertfordshire, University of Bedfordshire, Bedford College, the Central Bedfordshire College and Watford Grammar School for Girls as they take on the BRIT 2021 Challenge”.

Mari Durward-Akhurst - BRIT Ambassador

Mari was educated at Watford Grammar School for Girls and then between 2012 and 2015, completed her Bachelor of Science degree in Sports Therapy at the University of Bedfordshire.

Mari has a very rare degenerative genetic condition, with symptoms consisting of Ataxia and Dystonia. When she was younger, Mari found that her disability made it hard to make friends and she was bullied a lot.

Horse-riding changed everything for Mari and it helped her both physically and mentally. Horses have given Mari the freedom that she doesn’t have in a wheelchair.

Mari started riding at her local Riding for the Disabled Centre (RDA) after her physiotherapist suggested it as a form of therapy. She won her first RDA competition when she was 11 years old and qualified for the RDA national Championships in 2012. She was talent-spotted at a local para-riding competition and went on to represent Great Britain at Junior and Young Rider level.

In 2016, Mari won the Grade 3 Restricted Winter Championships.

Mari’s condition deteriorated and this meant that she was competing in the wrong competition grade for a long time. She was re-graded and this was a huge positive change for Mari and her riding career.

After her reclassification, Mari went on to become the 2016 Grade 1 Silver Champion, 2016 and 2018 Grade 1 Gold Champion and won the 2018 Hartpury 3* International.

Mari was subsequently selected to represent Great Britain at the 2018 Waragem CPEDI3* where she finished third in the freestyle.

In 2019, Mari became the Grade 1 Gold Semi-Final Champion and Reserve Champion, that earned her direct qualification to the Gold Nationals, and won team silver at the European Championships. That same year, Mari was the top Great Britain Grade 1 rider in the FEI World Rankings and 13th in the world.

In 2020, Mari qualified both her horses, Bear and Sky, for the 2021 Para Dressage Winter Gold Championships.

Mari with Sky

Mari has completed workshops for the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy and is currently completing a Mental Health First Aid Course. Her passion is encouraging young riders to become involved with Riding for the Disabled and then to make the step to Para Dressage; acting as a mentor for four up and coming Para Riders.

Mari is an Ambassador for Arctic One, the Douglas Bader Foundation and Ataxia UK. She is also a public speaker, sharing her story and inspiring others along the way.

For more information on Mari and the Para-Equestrian team, please visit the British Equestrian website.


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