21 September 2018

GB para-dressage squad secure Paralympic spot with World Equestrian Games team silver

Five-time Paralympic champion Natasha Baker defied her own mountain of pressure to help GB’s para-dressage squad qualify for Tokyo 2020 thanks to World Equestrian Games team silver in Tryon.

Baker and ride Mount St John Diva Dannebrog were competing in their third team test as a combination but lack of experience proved no issue, scoring a personal best 74.118 per cent in the Grade III class.

That, coupled with strong performances from Sophie Wells, Sir Lee Pearson and Erin Orford, saw the squad total 222.957 – just 0.64 per cent shy of the gold medal-winning Netherlands team.

But, with a place in Tokyo now secured and nearly two more years of training to come with Mount St John Diva Dannebrog, Baker knows the approach to the next Paralympic Games is one to savour.

“I don’t even know what to say. I’m still shaking; she was absolutely amazing,” she said.

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If that’s what we can do after seven months, then in another year’s time, she’s just going to grow even more in confidence. I absolutely adore that horse.

Natasha Baker

“I’m just so, so, proud of her [Mount St John Diva Dannebrog]. Everything was just so much better. She went in there with so much more confidence. I was much more confident; it hit me a little bit [the pressure], but she just felt so good that it didn’t matter.

“I just felt so much more prepared going in there. We got the halts, and I’m just so, so happy.”

Baker was not the only one revelling in a new experience, with teammate Orford making her World Equestrian Games debut in California.

It’s an event she’ll remember for a long time to come too, bettering her individual score atop Dior – their score of 69.029 per cent beating their effort from last year’s European Championships.

The Grade I class rider also had the challenge of being Britain’s final rider in the team event, knowing just how close she was at picking up gold for her nation.

“I was so proud of her [Dior]. I had hoped we’d done enough but unfortunately the scores weren’t on our side,” said Orford.

Sophie Wells will be bidding for her second individual gold in Tryon

“She had a bit of stage-fright in the individual event but in the team competition, I was really pleased. I couldn’t have asked any more of her. We went in there and gave it everything.”

The team event had earlier got under way, with Wells and Pearson taking to the arena, the former looking to back up her individual gold medal from earlier in the week.

The Paralympic champion certainly did that too, scoring a personal best 77.233 per cent to finish top of the Grade V standings.

Meanwhile, Pearson followed that up with a strong score of 71.606 per cent to put the team in fifth place overall overnight ahead of Baker and Orford’s performances.

The para-dressage competition concludes on Saturday with the freestyle event, where both Wells and Baker take to the arena in their bid for second individual titles of the week in Tryon.

Pic: Jon Stroud Media/BEF

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