‘I was desperate to get out’: rider scoops national title days after stint in hospital

  • “I knew I was going to make it here I just wasn’t sure how,” declared a delighted Mari Durward-Akhurst after winning the Equissage grade I para title at the National Dressage Championships riding Athene Lindebjerg.

    This time last week Mari, who trains with Rob Waine, had only just been discharged after a fortnight stay in Stoke Mandeville with a bad kidney infection.

    “I was desperate to get out,” added Mari, who only managed to get two rides in before coming to Somerford. “In fact I think it was being so desperate that swayed them to agreeing to let me go.”

    The incomparable Athene Lindebjerg, herself a half-sister to three grand prix horses, has legend status within the para community along with a manger full of gold medals including Olympic and European. She is on loan to the South Bucks Riding for the Disabled Association, and is owned by Diane Redfern. Mari first sat on her at the beginning of the year.

    “I’d seen and heard so much about her so to be on her was incredible and riding her was even more amazing than watching her, I mean that walk!” said Mari reflecting on her initial ride. “Today I was still a bit wibbly wobbly after being in hospital but she knows what she has to do and I was really happy, in fact I think it was the best test we’ve ever done.”

    Laura Gulliver secured the grade IV riding Chelsea Tolhurst’s Hermitage De Jeu. Laura has ridden the 2020 elementary winter champion since last November.

    “Chelsea’s a musician and her band has taken over so she very kindly gave me the ride,” said Laura who both trains and works part time for Judy Harvey.

    “I can’t thank Chelsea (and Judy), enough for the opportunity. He was brilliant today, his party piece is his medium trots and today they felt amazing.

    “It’s been an emotional week, I won at the nationals in 2019 on Woodlander Garuda K, who very sadly died last week, and it has been a challenge to keep focused.”

    ‘He adapts very well to our different aids’

    Erin Orford won the grade III on day one of the National Dressage Championships with Dragons Fire. She has been sharing the ride with Sophie Wells since the end of last year.

    “I’d nothing to ride and Sophie very kindly let me have a sit on Dragons Fire and then let me carry on through this year,” said Erin.

    Sophie and Erin have been sharing the ride with Sophie qualifying him for Saturday’s medium gold championship.

    “He is so good at switching between us,” said Erin. “He’s very sensitive with a fantastic brain and adapts very well to our different aids. I never do any canter work with him so he knows it’s para day with me rather than up the levels with Sophie.”

    Erin is currently on the hunt for a new horse.

    “It’s tricky as everyone needs something different from their para horse,” she reflected. “Obviously for me a good walk and trot is paramount but my tests are in a small arena so the horse also needs to be compact and balanced enough within that,” she said. “Mine also needs a good engine as I haven’t got the leg power – not easy to find.”

    Hope Hayward won the grade V riding her own Cadeau K. Hope bought the then 10-year-old six years ago after going out to the Netherlands with Rebecca Hughes.

    “We must have seen nearly 20 horses and he stood out,” said Hope. “He was really athletic and supple but he was such a trier. Even with my slightly different aids he gave everything a good go the first time and as I was flying home I was thinking I definitely want him, he’s my horse.”

    Hope has a spinal fusion and nerve damage and started riding as a child.

    “I was the first in my family to ride but my parents Sean and Angie are my biggest supporters,” said Hope who trains with Nikki Stevens. “I think they hoped I’d grow out of it but I just grew more obsessed.”

    This wasn’t a first visit to the nationals as Hope explained.

    “We were here last year but he was very insecure in the environment, this year he went through the arch and he was OK, mum, I’ve got this. I was so pleased, he felt the same in there as he had in the warm-up, it was fault free as it could be and I feel there’s more to come. “

    Georgia Wilson, fresh from two silvers and a bronze at the European Para Dressage Championships, won the grade II with Faside Must Be Love.

    “I was really pleased with him, he didn’t mind the atmosphere and although he was a little bit cheeky it’s good to get experience at a bigger show and I’ll just keep trucking on with him and hope big!”

    The horse was bought as a four-year-old from Matt Burnett who has recently moved up to Cheshire and is now based 15 minutes from Somerford.

    “I went to see him and loved his movement,” said Georgia, who trains with Nicky Lickley. “He’s also got the wow factor and when I press the right buttons he is amazing.

    Don’t miss the 21 September issue of H&H for 14 pages of reports from the National Dressage Championships, covering all sections and levels. 

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