London was the pinnacle, but going to Rio with expectations will be tough

Great Britain's Natasha Baker

Great Britain's Natasha Baker

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DOUBLE London 2012 Paralympic gold medallist Natasha Baker knows things will never again be quite the same as they were last summer.

Yet the 23-year-old insists a lack of motivation is not a factor in her quest for further success.

Baker won two individual dressage gold medals as part of an all-conquering Great Britain equestrian team which ended their most successful Games in history with five gold, five silver and one bronze medal to their name.

And by way of proving she remains as focused as ever on her sport, the Hammersmith star also returned from the European Championships in Denmark in August with three more golds.

For Baker, the target now is preparing to defend her titles at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio as well as doing her bit to inspire a new generation of British para-talent on the back of the enormous success of the London Games.

Baker said: “London was an incredible year and the best year of my life and I know I will never have the opportunity to compete at a home Paralympics again and repeat that kind of success.

“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity but I’ve got to take that experience from London and transfer the skills that I’ve learned and put them forward into future competitions as I have done this year.”

Baker is an ambassador for the third Paralympics GB SportsFest which will take place in Worcester and starts tomorrow and finishes on Monday.

And Baker admits she is passionate about the opportunity the event presents to get more kids involved in Paralympic sport.

“I’ve noticed a massive change in the perception of Paralympic sport since last summer and I get loads of emails from parents whose children want to start getting involved,” said Baker.

“The Games and its coverage put Paralympians on a par with Olympians and it has lasted. Events like SportsFest are a fantastic opportunity for us to get people involved who might even go on to compete in Rio or Tokyo in 2020.”

Baker will then be part of the Great Britain squad heading to the World Equestrian Games in France next year looking to maintain an unbeaten record in the team competition in major Championships which stretches back to 1997.

And far from approaching Rio freed from the burden of expectation that comes with competing in a home Olympics, she believes a different kind of pressure will be enough to maintain her focus.

“I went into London as a relative unknown so I wasn’t actually feeling so much pressure,” said Baker.

“So if anything I’ll have more pressure going to Rio because I’ve got to keep up with my achievements from London.

“London was an incredible achievement but every Paralympics is different and I am really excited and driven towards Rio. I’m just at the start of my career and I hope to go on for a long time.”

Natasha Baker is an ambassador for ParalympicsGB SportsFest, where people with disabilities can try a number of sports at the University of Worcester on November 24 and 25. Sign up at www.sportsfest.uk.com

Gloucestershire-based showjumper Emma O’Dwyer landed last Saturday’s final qualifier at Addington Equestrian Centre for the Dodson & Horrell and the World Class Programme Under-23 British Championship Final.

O’Dwyer will now head for the final at the London International Horse Show, Olympia, on Friday, December 20.

In an action-packed contest, seven combinations produced clear rounds to head through to the jump-off, where five riders recorded double clears.

Producing two of the five double clears, O’Dwyer took the win aboard her mother’s Miss Tonic and also took fifth place with HHS Figaro.

Excel Talent squad member Chloe Winchester (Avoca Valkyrie) finished a close second, ahead of Ben Walker (Victory VI) and Scarlett Ward (Milena 8), whilst Jess Dimmock (Capello II) was sixth.

World Class Showjumping performance manager, Rob Hoekstra, enthused: “The number of riders able to jump this kind of qualifier has definitely increased which is a very positive sign.

“It was an exceptionally good course and competition at the weekend and I’m really looking forward to seeing the competition at Olympia.”

There was a total prize fund of £1650 for the qualifier, with training vouchers to the value of £725 awarded to the first six prize-winning riders currently eligible for British team selection.

Ilkley riding association looking to celebrate 40th anniversary

THE Ilkley and District Riding Association will hold their Annual Presentation Evening at The King’s Hall and Winter Gardens in Ilkley on Friday, November 29.

The organisation are toasting their 40th anniversary this year and chairman Carol Dawson is looking forward to next weekend’s celebrations.

“It is always a well attended evening and an opportunity to swap the jodhpurs for evening attire!” said Dawson.

“It is where class winners pick up their awards/trophies plus the overall champions.”

More details are avaiable from the Association’s new website at www.idra.org.uk

Olympic and European dressage champion Charlotte Dujardin will head the line-up of entries for this year’s Reem Acra FEI World Cup event at London Olympia next month. Dujardin will ride Valegro, the horse on which she won Olympic team and individual gold at London 2012 and two European individual titles in Denmark earlier this year.

But she is also nominated with Uthopia, which is usually ridden by her Great Britain team-mate and training mentor Carl Hester.

Dujardin won the event last year, and she said: “There are very few competitions in the world that compare to the atmosphere of Olympia, and it is undoubtedly one of the greatest shows there is. Fingers crossed, we can repeat our success from last year.”

Hester is entered on Fine Time 13, while another member of Britain’s 2013 European Championship bronze medal winning-team – Michael Eilberg – rides Half Moon Delphi.

The London World Cup round, which takes place on December 16 and 17, has also attracted a considerable entry from continental Europe, including Dutch trio Edward Gal, Hans Peter Minderhoud and Danielle Heijkoop.

Laura Tomlinson will retire her long-standing dressage partner Mistral Hojris – more commonly known as Alf – with a special appearance in London.

Tomlinson and Alf have competed together since 2005, amassing a string of honours that culminated in a team gold and individual bronze at the London Olympics.

The 18-year-old Alf also helped Tomlinson to team and individual silver and the 2009 European Championships, three silvers at the 2010 World Equestrian Games, and 2011 European Championships medals.

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