From competing against Mo Farah to getting a reference from Charlotte Dujardin, find out nine things you may not have known about multi-medalled Paralympian Natasha Baker…
1. Having contracted transverse myelitis at the age of 14 months, Natasha was left with permanent nerve damage, loss of balance and sensation and severe weakness in her legs. She has no use of her legs while riding, and although she can walk short distances, she has a bright pink scooter, named Jordan, to help her get about.
2. Since a bad fall as a child, in which her foot got stuck in the stirrup and she was dragged, Natasha has always ridden without stirrups, as she is unable to free her foot from a stirrup in the event of a fall.
“I’d rather be either on, or off, not somewhere in between,” she says.
3. Her Paralympic dreams were inspired by watching Britain’s Lee Pearson compete in the Sydney Games in 2000, and win three gold medals. Natasha may only have been 10 at the time, but from that moment on she was determined to become a Paralympic champion.
4. Natasha has worked with several charities, including Dreamflight, which organizes 10-day trips to Florida for ill or disabled children. Natasha went on one of the trips herself, aged nine, and credits Dreamflight for helping her to achieve her goals. In 2014 Natasha completed a skydive to raise money for the charity.
5. She’s a fan of mares — even though her London and Rio Paralympic ride Cabral (JP) was a gelding.
“JP set me up really well for riding mares because he was so sensitive. You had to ask him everything, like with a mare — you couldn’t get bossy with him,” explains Natasha, who has partnered the nine-year-old mare Mount St John Diva Dannebrog since January.
6. After months of searching for a new horse after the sudden death of JP in 2017, Natasha contacted Emma Blundell at the Mount St John stud, who owns Diva, and was given a reference by none other than Charlotte Dujardin.
“I’ve known Charlotte since I went to try one of her horses in 2011,” explains Natasha. “It turned out to be unsuitable but we became friends then, and she’s a great advocate for para dressage. When I approached Emma about a horse, Charlotte gave me a really nice reference.”
7. Aside from her riding, Natasha has also built up a successful commentary career, having made her commentating debut at the 2017 European Championships in Sweden. This winter she will be commentating at all bar two of the World Cup dressage qualifiers, as well as the final, and will also be presenting the 2018 FEI Awards in Bahrain.
“Commentating has opened so many doors for me and I love being in front of the camera,” she says.
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8. Surprisingly, Natasha was an extremely shy child, who used to hide behind her mother’s legs and refuse to have her photo taken, unless she was on a pony.
“Now, though, I’m always the one on the team who does the interviews,” she laughs.
9. Natasha is currently one of six athletes shortlisted for the sports personality of the year award at the European Diversity Awards. She will go up against the likes of Olympic gold medallists Mo Farah and Nicola Adams for the award, which is presented in late November.
Don’t miss the full interview with Natasha in this week’s H&H, out on Thursday, 4 October