My name is Mari, and I am 30 years old.

When I was born it was thought that I had cerebral palsy which affected my left side. So, I was able to walk with a limp, but have always had poor balance. I was able to walk, trot and canter on the horses. I struggled with long distance walking and got tired very quickly. I attended a mainstream school but had extra help when needed.

 My riding journey……

Started when I was about three years old. My parents and sister were heavily involved with our local Riding for the Disabled group. I started riding at that RDA group as it was suggested by my physiotherapist that it would be a good form of therapy for me. When I started riding, I found it hard to sit up and had two side helpers and a leader. I soon decided that jumping wasn’t for me, ending up on the floor every time I tried due to my lack of balance.

 I decided dressage was the sport for me and I won my first RDA competition when I was 11, the following year I qualified for the RDA Nationals.

 My disability has made it hard for me to make friends and I used to get bullied a lot as I was different to other children and much slower than them. But then I found riding and things changed as it was something that I could do which helped me physically, as I started it as a form of therapy, but also mentally as it was something that I was good at, and I could excel at. I was able to develop a fantastic partnership with the horses that I ride and after I decided to have a go at competing it has all spiralled on from there.

When I turned 14, I started volunteering at the RDA group as I was finally old enough to start leading and side helping in lessons; I loved every minute of it and the joy that the horses brought to everyone.

I started competing in Para Dressage and in 2007 was selected to represent GB at my first Junior International. 2007 was a big year as it’s also when I got my international classification. At Millfield Junior International I was also selected onto the University of Hertfordshire’s Elite Athlete Support Programme who supported me until I went to university. I had weekly strength and conditioning sessions as well as help with media and so much more. It really helped me to develop into the athlete I am today.

The Junior International was great and such a great way to learn how to do everything at international level. Everyone stayed in student accommodation, and we all made friends. We rode the test on day one and then got feedback from the judges before we re-rode the test on day 2.

In 2008 my parents purchased my first horse Miss Daisy 111 she was an incredible school maser. I was selected onto the Pre-Start of the World Class Programme in 2008.

Sadly, we lost Daisy just before Millfield Junior International. At such a sad time I was honoured to be allowed to ride Lambrusco at Millfield Junior International. I was cantering down the long side when we got to the corner, he jumped out the arena we almost landed on the judge’s car, jumped back in and carried on; everyone was laughing!

In 2010 I won my first National title; Grade 3 Restricted Winter Para Dressage Champion and came 2nd at the GB Junior International. I was given the ride on Waldminor (Woody) who had been competed by Paralympic Gold medalist, Natasha Baker. He taught me so much and I never forget when the music was too loud and he took off doing one-time flying changes and canter pirouettes, oops not allowed in our tests but it was great fun! We then brought my second horse a beautiful mare called Lady Amelia and made the decision to stop riding Woody as travelling an hour each way on the M25 whilst doing my GCSE’s and having our own horse would be too much.

In 2012 I got Sky O’Hara on loan and in a short time together we qualified to represent GB at 1* International level. I got Sky just before the Paralympics and I remember our first competition being on the same day as the Para Dressage classes so we competed in the morning and headed to Greenwich in the afternoon. It was incredible watching, and I vowed that one day I would compete at a Paralympics!

In 2013 we sadly lost our mare Ady too soon, just after celebrating her 11th Birthday.

In 2014 and 2015 I competed in National competitions and we also brought a future competition horse for me at Grade 3. Lebensfreude, Bear as he fondly know at home, a stunning five-year-old came into our lives. It was incredible to ride such a big moving horse but also an experience teaching a young horse. In a short time, we started doing some prelims together.

In 2015 I made the move up to open competition and got selected to represent GB at 2* International level. I qualified for the first time for the British Dressage Gold Nationals; the biggest competition on the BD calendar. Unfortunately Bear got injured and was off for a long time; fortunately I still had Sky, so we were still competing together.

Between 2012 and 2015 I was at university studying Sports Therapy; I was able to balance my horses and my university work. In 2015 I qualified with a BSc Hons 2:1 and set up my own business.

Over the years I have been lucky to ride some incredible ponies and horses too many to list on here. But Waterford Blue Diamond the first pony I had on loan from Ria took me to my first international and got me onto the Para Dressage ladder. I will never forget having the chance to ride a Grand Prix horse who took off in extended canter and then started doing one-time flying changes; it was amazing. I also got a chance to do piaffe and passage. Daisy and Ady who were taken too soon but were all a big part of my journey. Having horses is hard and we didn’t have a lot of luck with our own, but I was incredibly lucky to be offered so many on loan.

 In 2016 we headed off to the Winter Para Dressage Gold Championships, I remember it well, it was at a very cold Vale View. I was doing the restricted tests with my horse Sky as I could no longer manage the shoulder in etc. We won the warm up test with a good score and then went onto win the championship test; our first championship win together. I was very wobbly and did well to stay on during the medium trot, but Sky always looked after me!


My journey continued………

Shortly after the Winter Championships we headed off to Deauville, France to be reclassified, due to a deterioration in my condition I could no longer ride safely at grade 3 (walk, trot, canter, and lateral work). It was shock but I was reclassified to a Grade 1; so walk only. I was first classified when I was 14 and my condition had greatly changed since then! At this point I was able to walk with a walking stick not very well, may I add, and used a scooter/wheelchair too.

We have five grades in Para Dressage: Grade 1-5 with 5 being the least impaired and 1 being the most impaired.

I soon went out at my new grade and was getting over 70% (I had been getting 60% if I was lucky at Grade 3) and the tests were much easier and didn’t involve almost falling off! My reclassification was the starting point for me, and it became clear that my dream might come true.

Unfortunately, I had to stop working as I was no longer able to do my job due to my deterioration; this was heart breaking. I tried to work out some way of doing something with my degree but due to my memory loss too I made the decision to become a full-time athlete.

In 2017 I started training with Rob Waine and won my first Gold National title and in 2018 I retained this title. I was also one of 12 to achieve the selection criteria for the World Equestrian Games and I beat a Paralympian at my grade for the first time not once but twice! 2018 was also the year I won my first international title.

2019 was the year my dream came true, but it was also the year I lost the ability to walk completely and became a full-time wheelchair user. I was selected to represent GB abroad in Belgium and was placed in all my classes with a podium finish (3rd) in the Freestyle. I was then selected to represent GB at Hartpury CPEDI3* with Sky; two 2nd’s and winning the freestyle. I was selected to represent GB at the Para Dressage Europeans in Rotterdam; my first Senior Championship. I finished 7th in the Individual test, 6th in the team test and 4th in the Freestyle just missing out on a bronze medal. My team test score counted towards GB winning the Silver Medal. As a result of my performances, I was selected onto the World Class Podium Potential Programme.

2020 should have been the year of Tokyo and everything was on track but unfortunately with the years delay this meant that my current ride was too old and so the decision was made to retire him. We had to start looking for a new dancing partner.

In 2021 Sky went home to his owner to retire in Yorkshire. Originally, we had a signed loan agreement for 1 year with Sky but we had nine wonderful years together. Sky helped me to make my dreams come true and helped me through some really difficult times. Glesni, Sky’s owner loved having him home, he’s spoilt like a king, and we still go and visit him. He really is one in a million. As my condition deteriorated Sky always looked after me and would never do anything that I couldn’t deal with; he saved that for the able-bodied riders!

I found my new dancing partner, but it takes time to build a relationship. Damo came into our lives, and we were soon out competing and scoring pretty good scores.  We had several top 3 International finishes. I didn’t make renomination onto the World Class Podium Potential Programme as they felt me, and my new horse didn’t have a strong enough CV.

I decided after lock down to try a new sport Para Rowing I didn’t think I would be very good and would end up going round in circles. But actually, I wasn’t that bad, and it soon became more than a hobby! I am very proud to say I hold the world record for my age group (PR1 female) on the erg and have won two gold medals representing Wales at the Home International.

2022 I won the Grade 1 Gold Winter National Championships, Grade 1 Gold Semi Final and the Grade 1 Gold National Championships as well as finishing in the top 3 at international level with Damo.

2023 I was offered the ride on Di Redfern’s Athene, and we had an amazing first year together; winning three National titles and have three top three finishes at International level. Damo competed at the Gold Semi Finals and qualified for the Gold Nationals, but I could only take one horse.

2024 and I firmly have my eyes set on selection for the Paris Paralympics with the wonderful Athene. I have been re selected onto the World Class Podium Potential Programme. Damo and I finished 2nd at the Para Dressage Winter Championships. Athene and I had good scores at the first show of the year together, Addington 3*CPEDI.

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; I am a mentor for five up and coming para riders. I also enjoy carrying out my role as an Ambassador for Arctic One and honoured to be an Ambassador for the Douglas Bader Foundation (DBF). Losing the ability to walk was tough but thankfully I have the horses; they are my legs and together we excel. I also have my electric chair, my manual chair and my scooter which help me to get around.


I have Cerebral Palsy and a very rare neurological condition with symptoms including ataxia and dystonia. It affects all four limbs and has left me weaker down my left side than my right. As a result of my CP my coordination, balance and muscle tone are all affected. I am a full-time wheelchair user and am unable to use/move my legs.


My adaptations that enable me to ride……….

I ride in loop reins my grip is very poor; when I get on, I am given the loops and I try and keep hold of them for the duration of my ride. When it comes to the stretch walk, I am not able to drop them and then re pick them up, so I push my hands forward. I also salute with my head only. I am unable to use my legs and so I use two whips which act as my legs. I am also able to use my voice, so all my horses are voice activated. I can use a seat saver which is helpful as I have limited feeling. I also use a soft/hard hand hold for safety reasons and to help me if I lose my balance. I ride without stirrups as it’s safer and I would not be able to push my feet down. I can have my tests called as I mentioned earlier my memory isn’t very good and so that makes a massive difference.

 I manage  by having regular Physiotherapy sessions as my upper body muscles get very tight. But also doing a lot of gym work.

I try and maintain what I have and remain positive.


What a regular training week looks like?

4 weight sessions a week

Two rowing machine sessions (one long steady and one shorter intense session)

Two steady state hour hand bike sessions

Two cardio hand bike sessions

Regular mobilisation and stretch sessions.

Riding four times a week, two lessons a week.


It’s seriously intense but I love it and love a challenge!


Photo credit: John Stroud


March 27, 2024