In her first ever Paralympics at the age of 22, Natasha Baker could not have asked for a better introduction to the equestrian events at this level. She broke Paralympic records and took home Team GB’s first equestrian gold medal of the games.
Natasha has been inspired by watching now team-mate Lee Pearson and his horse at the Sydney games on television with her mother. She contracted transverse myletis, an inflammation of the spine which affects nerve endings, when she was 14 months old leaving her with limited use of her legs. She started Riding For the Disabled classes as a therapy aged nine and was talent spotted aged 11.
She rides by using her seat and voice and she gave up using stirrups — upon which able- bodied riders are so reliant – after being unable to extricate her feet when unseated and being dragged a couple of times.
Going early in her class on her 11-year-old Polish-bred gelding Cabral, Natasha scored a Paralympic record mark of 76.857 per cent for the individual grade II championship test but she then had to watch on as two German riders came desperately close to that incredible score.
First Angelika Trabert, a rider with no legs but incredible balance, scored 76.000 per cent before the reigning Paralympic champion, Britta Napel, a rider who has had paralysis in her legs and torso since being poisoned by insecticide in 1998, came in determined not to let go without a fight. She scored marginally higher than her compatriot, 76.048 per cent, to take silver.
“It’s the most incredible feeling,” said Baker clasping her medal and wrapped in a Union Jack. “It’s my first games, it’s at home and to come back with a gold medal is amazing,” she said. “When I got on the podium and saw all the flags and people cheering it was just wow. It means everything. Since I was 10 I said I’d come to the Paralympics and win gold.”
Anne Dunham is one of the most successful British equestrian to have competed at the Paralympics.
Anne’s love of horses began when she was very young and worked at a local stable in her spare time and, by the age of 16, she was running a yard of 80 horses at weekends. She had “always wanted to compete” but while she was able to ride the horses in the stables it was their owners who competed with them.
At the age of 27 Anne was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and has used a wheelchair since the age of 30.
It was not until she turned 40, when her husband sold his business, that she was able to buy a horse and begin to compete.
Anne first competed at the Paralympics competing on her horse Doodlebug in dressage events at the 1996 Atlanta Games. She won a bronze medal in the individual mixed Kur trot grade II, and gold in the open team event. In the individual mixed dressage grade II she finished just outside of the medals in fourth position.
Anne’s success continued at the 2000 Summer Paralympics, in Sydney, Dunham was part of the team that successfully defended their title in the open team dressage event. In the individual events at the games she finished fifth. The 2004 Athens Games were Anne’s third Paralympic appearance. As part of a team with Lee Pearson, Debbie Criddle and Nicola Tustain she won her third consecutive gold medal in the team dressage.
But in her fourth Paralympics in 2008 Anne, then aged 59, won her first individual gold, competing on her horse Teddy Edwards. She also won silver in freestyle.
In recognition of her achievements Anne was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2009 New Year Honours.
Marion Coakes earned place in riding history when she and her horse Stroller won the silver medal at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico for show jumping.
Marion was born in Hampshire. Her father, Ralph, was a farmer and her elder brothers, John and Douglas, were also keen show jumpers. Marion began riding at the age of three, learning on a donkey, but it was in 1960 when her father imported Stroller, an eight-year-old pony, from Ireland. At the age of 16 Marion was coming to the end of her junior career and her father wanted to replace Stroller with a horse, as was customary. Marion was not willing to let him go though, and continued showing on the pony.
This proved to be a shrewd move as her partnership with Stroller proved to be a very successful one. In her second season as a senior Marion won the Queen Elizabeth II Cup—a former international ladies class event—that took place at the Royal International Horse Show. That year she won three Nations Cup events, helping to win the Presidents Cup.
In 1964 Marion won the Hickstead Derby Trial and placed second to Seamus Hayes in the Hickstead Derby itself. The following year Marion rode Stroller to a gold medal in the ladies World Championship at Hickstead.
From there Marion went on to compete at the 1968 Summer Olympics in both the team and the individual jumping events. It was in the individual jumping that she won a silver medal, something that not many had expected her to do. She triumphantly returned from Mexico to win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year and Stroller became somewhat of a celebrity himself.
This week’s Olympic hopeful is Tina Fletcher. Tina is one of Britain’s leading showjumpers with over 30 years competition experience and will be part of Team GB this summer in London.
Born on 12 June 1965, she is now married to former Olympic silver medallist Graham Fletcher. They have two sons, William and Oliver, and run a yard near Wantage in Oxon.
Tina began her riding career in the Pony Club at the age of four and was very successful throughout the 1990s, winning the National Grade C Championship at Horse Of The Year Show in 1996 with her horse Sparticus II and then had a repeat victory the following year with McCoist.
Having regularly represented Britain in nations cup competitions during her career, Tina is now back competing at the highest level with a stable of top class horses.
Tina has won The Queen Elizabeth II Cup three times (1992, 1993, 2007) and narrowly missed out on becoming the first lady to win the Hickstead Jumping Derby since 1973 when riding Promised Land in a tense jump-off against Guy Williams in 2010.
She achieved her “lifetime ambition” in 2011 when Promised Land jumped a second clear round in the Hickstead Jumping Derby in succession to lift the famous Boomerang Trophy.
She may not go in to this summer’s events as the favourite but her skills and experience should give everyone reason to be hopeful.