Countdown to Rio: Baker and JP are ready for anything as they head to Brazil


It’s nearly four years since Natasha Baker claimed two gold medals at London 2012, but the “fantastic” memories she has of her home Paralympic Games means it feels to her as if it was only last year.

And she says her preparations for next month’s dressage competition in Rio – she is competing again in three events, with her “special boy” Cabral, known as JP – could not have gone better.

She told Disability News Service: “It’s been a really fantastic year. I have won every one of the selection competitions. It couldn’t have gone better.”

And despite helping her win three golds in London, JP’s performance has even improved.

“He’s going better now than he was in London, which is fantastic,” she says. “He seems softer, more connected.”

She places much of the credit for this down to a change of trainer since London.

She says: “Everything seems to kind of slot into place; we are in a really good place at the moment and I’m feeling really excited about it.”

JP has flown before, when Baker visited the Middle East last year for a competition, and she also believes they are ready for any weather conditions that Rio might throw at them.

She says: “He’s used to the heat, he actually goes far better in the heat than in the cold. So I feel pretty prepared.

“We only ride outdoors at home, so if it pours down with rain I think we will be used to that as well.”

As for her hopes from the games, she says: “Obviously, three medals would make me have a grin from ear to ear like a Cheshire cat, but with horses you just never know what can happen, especially when we are travelling halfway around the world.

“To come home with some medals would just be amazing, [but]as long as I go out and do my best and he does his best I will be a happy girl.”

But she warns that other countries are “catching us up. They are chasing us at quite a rapid pace so to go out there and contend for a gold medal would be amazing, and hopefully we can do enough to bring it home.”

She is due to compete on 13, 15 and 16 September.

Baker was one of the Paralympians who spoke out to DNS before London 2012 about the importance of disability living allowance (DLA) to her and other athletes, and who spoke of their fears that government spending cuts could jeopardise their independence and that of other disabled people.

Since then, the hugely controversial process to reassess working-age DLA claimants for the new personal independence payment has begun, with tens of thousands of disabled people already having their support cut or removed completely.

Four years on from London 2012, Baker has decided not to speak about the reassessment process.

Asked how she had been affected, she says only: “Yes, I’m all sorted. No change.” She declines to comment further.

Speaking before the revelations of the Rio 2016 organising committee’s funding crisis, she says London 2012 “really propelled Paralympic sport forward”, and hopes that the Rio games will “do that even more so”.

And she says she was not put off by health concerns about the Zika virus. “I’m not planning on having children any time soon.

“Obviously it can be a concern but we have been given the best possible advice by the BPA [the British Paralympic Association], and they are updating it constantly on what’s going on and the latest medical advice, so I know we are in safe hands.”

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