3 December 2023

"There’s plenty of information if your child is disabled, but very little for disabled parents" Natasha Baker

All new parents have to be adaptable. On International Day of Disabled People, get to know Para dressage rider Natasha Baker.

Being disabled, you have to be good at planning and organising. You have to think about how you’re going to get somewhere, how accessible it will be; it’s generally more difficult to be spontaneous.

So when my son Joshua was born in April this year, the changes to my life really didn’t come as much of a shock. I’d had that need to plan and be super-organised for 33 years of my life.

That said, I thought I would be riding my horse Keystone Dawn Chorus – known at home as Lottie - late into my pregnancy. That had been the plan. But soon after I became pregnant the nausea hit, and I couldn’t even trot without feeling terribly sick. In the end I didn’t ride for nearly a year - the longest I’ve spent off a horse since I was seven or eight years old. But I didn’t stay away from the yard, I was there for pretty much every session my trainer did with Lottie.

Baker and Lottie celebrate in the Dressage Individual Test at Tokyo 2020

I joined a Paralympic and Olympic Mums Whatsapp group when I was pregnant, and that was great - sharing ideas and checking how everyone was coping. Charlotte Dujardin, the Olympic dressage gold medallist, was also pregnant at the same time as me so we kept in touch quite a bit through pregnancy too.

But what I discovered early on was the lack of information and resources out there for disabled prospective parents. How would I carry him? What buggy should I use? Would I be able to push him from my scooter or wheelchair? I had so many questions, and spent hours scrolling through social media trying – with limited success - to find the answers. There’s plenty of information out there if your child is disabled, but very little for disabled parents – and that did make the experience more daunting. Now, if I could share my experiences and what I’ve learned along the way, I’d be glad to.

I’ve also discovered some great gadgets. I used a baby carrier to transport Joshua around when I was on my scooter or using my wheelchair. And now that Joshua can sit up and support himself more I use a bit of kit called a LapBaby which secures around his waist and mine. It’s great when you’re in a wheelchair.

I was back riding Lottie eleven weeks after giving birth. I took it really easy to begin with – walking for two or three weeks, then slowly building up to trot and canter. It was so good to be back; everything felt exactly the same. I was prepared for some aches and set my expectations really low, but when you’ve been doing a sport for so long it is amazing how your body just remembers. I was worried too whether I would feel nervous about being a mum and the responsibilities that brings, but that didn’t even cross my mind. Lottie is such a fantastic horse and I trust her implicitly.

Natasha and family on holiday (via @nbakerpararider Instagram)

Joshua is seven months old now and comes down the yard regularly – he’s even been on Lottie and absolutely adores her. It seems the feeling is mutual as Lottie likes to nuzzle her nose in his buggy too. Our dog Poppy on the other hand is still getting used to having a little person around, having been number one priority for 14 years!

We have a great routine which means I can balance training with Lottie and being a mum. I’m super lucky as my mum Lorraine is really involved – as our groom, she gets Lottie ready for me to ride, then I get on and she looks after Joshua, then we swap back again. We had a recent squad training session and we all slept in the horsebox which worked out really well, and Joshua had lots of cuddles from our vet Rob and our saddler Di while I was riding, so it has all worked out brilliantly.

Getting back to riding felt fantastic as I must admit the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games had been 100 per cent on my mind. When I was off I was thinking ‘I need to be back for Paris’ but really, the timing was perfect. I’ll have had a good year to get my fitness back and get back up to where I need to be in order to be ready for qualification. I want to do Joshua proud.

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