From heartbreak in Beijing to the road to Rio
In the latest blog from our ParalympicsGB Allianz ambassadors, we hear from dressage rider, Natasha Baker on her Paralympic journey to date, how qualification for equestrian works and her ambitions for Rio.
In many ways equestrian was a natural step for me as I was brought up surrounded by horses on the family farm. It was something I’d always wanted to do and I started at the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) aged eight. My first taste of Paralympic sport was when I watched the Sydney Paralympics in 2000 and it was then that I decided I would be a Paralympic champion one day.
Heartbreak in Beijing
I started competing aged 15 and won my first competition at 16. I was on track to compete in Beijing 2008 but one of my horses sadly went lame just weeks before the finals. As well as missing out on my first big opportunity, it was also hard to see my horse go that way.
But that made me more determined than ever to succeed. After the disappointment of missing out on Beijing, I couldn’t wait to compete at London 2012. I can’t describe the experience in one word – but it was super, super exciting. Our sport has been in the Paralympics since 1996 and the team has never come home without a medal. While I don’t get especially nervous, knowing that fact in the back of your mind puts a certain pressure on! Saying that, I had the least pressure in the team as I was the youngest and also the first to go out on the day.
I worked a lot with a sports psychologist before and he said to remember that the only difference when competing at the Paralympics is the arena. He said you’ve done it a million times before so there’s no reason why you can’t do it on the biggest stage.
The road to Rio
Competing this year started a couple of weeks ago. I take part in both the individual and the freestyle events. In the individual, everyone rides the same test and you’re judged on every movement. In the freestyle you’re given a list of moves and can perform them in any order. You also choose the music and are judged on the choreography and musicality – the freestyle is definitely my favourite!
There are five grades within dressage – 1a, 1b, 2, 3, 4, with 1a being for athletes who are the most disabled. In the Paralympics you have to take an athlete in the grade 1 or 2 events. We’ve already qualified all five places in Rio for Great Britain But now it’s up to us to compete for those qualification places. As well as competing against the other 2s, I’m also competing against everyone on the team for one of those places. Even if I’m top of my grade, I’ve got to score one of the top five highest % out of my team, so consistency is key.
I’m looking forward to Rio – I have confidence in myself and I’d love to come home with medals. I’ll keep doing my best, and as long as the horses are happy then so am I!