Natasha Baker took the silver medal for Britain in the Paralympics dressage grade III freestyle today in Tokyo.
Natasha scored 77.614% for her active, rhythmic test on Keystone Dawn Chorus (“Lottie”) – who is owned by Joanna Jensen and Christian Landolt, as well as Natasha and her parents Lorraine and Phil – despite saying the mare felt “exhausted” tonight.
She said: “Lottie was really, really tired and as soon as I sat on her, I could just feel it and I thought, ‘Oh no, we shouldn’t have left so long to warm up today.’ It’s all such a learning curve – I didn’t know how she was going to come out. We gave her a complete day off yesterday and only did hand grazing in the paddock and I thought that might give her a bit more energy, but it didn’t.
“I’ve never done a competition where I’ve had a day off in between, it’s always been successive days, so it’s one for the memory bank. To do that under those circumstances and still come out with a silver medal is just beyond belief.”
Some of Natasha’s music is from the freestyle she used with her London and Rio Paralympics dressage horse Cabral (“JP”).
Although she was emotional thinking about JP afterwards, Natasha admitted she didn’t give it much thought during the test: “To be honest, I couldn’t really concentrate on the music because I was working so hard keeping her going. I was quite ahead of my music just because she didn’t have that lift that she normally does and that’s what I got so well in Saturday’s team test. She just felt flat and therefore it was a little bit fast, but I was trying really hard to keep the engagement.”
Looking back on the whole week, Natasha said: “I can take so much confidence from the fact that she has gone in that arena and every single day she’s just felt more relaxed. To know that she can handle this kind of environment – I could not be more proud of her.
“My owner Joanna [Jensen] sent me the sweetest message earlier – she was like, ‘I am so proud of you that you could just go in there, stand at X, and do a bit of disco dancing and I would be happy for you’. Lottie has exceeded every single expectation – if you’d have said to me I was going to win two individual silvers and a team gold, I would have said you were lying because I just never imagined that any of this would be possible.
“We can really grow on the experiences that we’ve had here. She’s just going to get better and stronger and our relationship is just going to develop so much more. I just couldn’t be more proud of everything that she’s achieved and everything that she’s done for me.”
Natasha contracted transverse myelitis (inflammation of a section across the spine) when she was 14 months old, which resulted in permanent nerve damage, leaving her with a severe weakness, loss of balance and sensation, and the inability to feel her legs.
Paralympics dressage freestyle: gold for Denmark
As in the individual test last Friday, Natasha was the runner-up to Denmark’s Tobias Thorning Jorgensen on the grey mare Jolene Hill, who scored 84.347% to become the third Paralympic dressage plus-80% freestyle gold medal winner of the day so far.
“I kind of left my head out here this time, because I wanted really to show I can do this and so I rode all the time just to the edge of being too much,” said Tobias. “I was probably closer to some mistakes today than I was yesterday, but I took the chance.”
Tobias said he will have “a whole month of celebration” when he returns home.
“I always had the dream about double gold, but I knew it was going to be hard and having them is always something exceptional. I would be happy if it was a silver or bronze – just to get two medals at my first Paralympics – but two golds, that’s amazing.”
Although his score today was a personal best, Tobias admitted his emotions were delayed until he saw Natasha’s mark.
“It was kind of hard because I was so focused when I got off and out of the arena and I knew that Natasha could pretty much beat every score I had if she did her best, so I didn’t really have the emotions right after. When I saw the score I was very happy, but when I saw her score I really was happy.”
Tobias said he wants the greatest takeaway from this Paralympics dressage competition to be that the sport has a new star in his mare Jolene Hill.
“Without the horse I’m nothing, I need a horse like her,” he said.
The withdrawal of Dutch rider Rixt van der Horst, who took the bronze in the individual test here at the Tokyo Paralympics, opened the door for Norway’s Ann Cathrin Lubbe to take the bronze following fourth last Friday. She scored 76.447% today on La Costa Majlund.
The Paralympics dressage continues with the freestyles for the final two grades, including two medal chances for Britain in the upcoming grade II class.
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