Natasha Baker MBE was just 14 months old when she contracted transverse myelitis, a virus that left her with permanent nerve damage and severe weakness in her legs.
But watching the Sydney 2000 Paralympics made her determined to be a gold medallist one day.
She showed an immediate talent, quickly becoming known as the ‘horse whisperer’ for the way she interacts and communicates with her animals.
Natasha won her first two gold medals at the London 2012 Paralympics, following up with a hat-trick of golds at Rio 2016.
Now 30, she’s hoping to add to her tally in Tokyo. We caught up with her to find out about her preparation, and how The National Lottery has helped turn her into one of Britain’s most successful Paralympians…
Can you explain how your style of riding works?
I can’t use my legs at all. They do move but they hang down and move with the horse, so I instruct my horses entirely through verbal commands and seat movements. But they’re very sensitive to these signals and generally they pick them up very quickly.
Can you remember the first time you got on a horse?
I grew up on the family farm and I’ve always been around horses. I was eight when I started going to Riding for the Disabled (RDA).
When did it become clear that you had a real talent?
I was so dedicated and I think the RDA trainers understood this quite early on. Then I watched the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and was mesmerised by the dressage, although I didn’t exactly realise what it was. I told my instructor I wanted to win a Paralympic medal. I was talent spotted within the year and put on the squad.
Tell us a bit about your new horse, Lottie…
She’s the perfect height for me, she’s very pretty and has all the things I look for in a horse – she’s laid-back but has a good brain and is very active. Nothing fazes her but she’s really motivated.
Describe a typical day’s training…
The best thing is that every day is different. The horses are athletes too, and it’s about working together. We will be training all over the weekend, maybe going for a trot around the fields. You can’t explain things to a horse as easily as you can to an ordinary athlete, so it’s all about flexibility, good planning and communication.
If you’re selected, who’ll be going with you to Tokyo?
My mum, who is also my groom, and my trainer Lisa. My other half Marc and my dad will come out to the competition days, along with Lottie’s owner.
How has The National Lottery helped you in your training?
It’s helped in so many ways. My trainer comes out twice a week and to competitions with me, so that’s a major expense.
The horses need new shoes every five weeks; new saddles cost a few thousand pounds, and having our tack adapted also costs money.
Then we have chiropractors, vets, physios, doctors… Our horse box cost a lot too, then there’s the fuel and insurance.
There is no way we could do this without funding from The National Lottery, and every single ticket people buy goes towards helping us win medals.
To find out more about how playing makes a difference, visit national-lottery.co.uk/news