Life lessons: Natasha Baker — ‘Lots of riders put so much pressure on themselves and forget why they do it’ *H&H Plus*

  • The Paralympic gold medallist on keeping an open mind, the value of TRT training and which grand prix horse would be perfect for para dressage.

    Grade III rider Natasha has won five Paralympic gold medals, as well as double silver at the 2018 World Championships. She is currently aiming for the Tokyo Paralympics with Keystone Dawn Chorus, and is also an FEI dressage commentator.

    Before going into the arena, I remind myself that this is fun, and I do this sport because I enjoy it. Lots of riders put so much pressure on themselves and forget why they do it.

    Thinking this way before going in also helps me breathe, and of course our horses pick up on everything that we as riders are feeling. If we’re nervous and tense, our horses will recognise this, and they will act differently, too. It’s really important to know your horse and to be able to adapt your riding and your routine to how they might be feeling on a particular day.

    The Baker family motto is “everything happens for a reason”, and I try not to have any regrets, because everything that has happened to me has made me the person I am today. I don’t tend to regret making mistakes, because I have learned from them. Another thing my parents taught me is that you never know when the next door is going to open and where it will take you.

    Now, I try never to say no to opportunities. Dressage commentating was never on my radar, but it’s something I threw myself into when the opportunity arose and now I really love it.

    My sporting icons

    My biggest inspiration while I was growing up was always Lee Pearson – he was the person who got me into para dressage.

    I have plenty more icons in the sport – I love German grand prix rider Jessica von Bredow-Werndl; she is so elegant and has such amazing relationships with all her horses. I also really admire Denmark’s Cathrine Dufour for the same reasons.

    There are plenty of horses out there that I would love to ride, but I have always thought that Benjamin Werndl’s grand prix ride Daily Mirror would make a fabulous para horse. He has a seriously good walk, like a panther, and a super trot.

    The biggest change I have made to my own routine over the years is introducing Tristan Tucker’s TRT method into my training, and incorporating more groundwork through my work with Claire Gallimore.

    My Paralympic gold medal-winning horse Cabral – known as JP – was incredibly sensitive, and I wish I had had these tools when I had him, as it would probably have made life easier. TRT is all about focusing on getting the horse more confident, and arming myself with techniques to help deal with tricky or spooky situations before they arise.

    My current top horse, Keystone Dawn Chorus (pictured), is fairly chilled, but anything can happen, as I learned with Mount St John Diva Dannebrog at the World Equestrian Games in 2018. Diva was also pretty chilled, and we won two silver medals there, but lots of little things happened during the final freestyle day which mounted up and I ended up having a fall. If I had had the tools to help settle her before going into the arena that might not have happened.

    One technique I use a lot nowadays is called turning of the hindleg, where you ask the hindleg to step under and across and the horse learns that this means relax and soften. You can use it outside the ring before going in, or even for a step in each corner once you’re in the arena.

    I would use TRT with all my horses now – it has opened my mind so much. The more knowledge we can have as riders the better.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 24 December 2020

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