Double silver for Britain's para dressage athletes in Herning

Thursday, 11 August 2022

The sun shone bright and hot over the FEI World Championships site in Herning today and the competition burned just as fiercely. It was day two of action in the BB Horse Arena for the Orifarm Healthcare FEI World Para Dressage Individual Championship presented by Elsass Fonden, and it proved profitable to the tune of a brace of individual silvers for our Grade 3 and 5 riders.

Natasha Baker and Keystone Dawn Chorus

Despite having her preparations besieged by setbacks, Grade 3 Natasha Baker and her British-bred Keystone Dawn Chorus, owned by her parents Phill and Lorraine Baker, Christian Landolt and Joanna Jensen, reproduced some of their Tokyo magic to secure the second individual medal of the championships for the British camp.

The 11-year-old Dimaggio mare was certainly on her toes today in front of the judging panel of Marco Orsini (GER) at E, John Robins (GBR) at H, Jeannette Wolfs (NED) at C, Suzanne Cunningham (AUS) at M and Katherine Lucheschi (ITA) at B. However, they were largely impressed by the test, showering the duo with sevens and eights throughout to put up a total percentage of 73.970 –  enough to give her second spot behind Tokyo double gold medallists Tobias Thorning Joergensen and Jolene Hill for the Danish home team, who posted a massive 78.676%.

“Well, this is my weather, so I am very, very happy about that, but I think [dressage horse] Glamourdale and Lottie [Keystone Dawn Chorus] must have been chatting in the stables and she wanted to take off like a rocket ship like him, because I think that is the quickest test I have ever done in my entire life!” declared Natasha.  

“Literally, I was hanging on for grim death – she wasn’t fazed by the atmosphere at all, that did not bother her. That’s obviously the biggest atmosphere she’s been in because in Tokyo we had no audience and it was a lot closer here, but that did not seem to bother her – she was on a mission!”

“Plus, I’m so unfit right now and I think that’s probably why, because normally if she’s a bit like that I can just get her together. From having six weeks off, I’ve only been back in the saddle for two weeks before I came here. I had a chest infection, was on two lots of antibiotics, and then I had a urine  infection for a week, so I was on three lots of antibiotics!” she explained.

“At the end of last year, I said 2022 was the year for me. I wanted to enjoy getting married, enjoy my honeymoon and I haven’t done anything! I did Wellington and then had to withdraw from Hartpury because of my chest infection, so this is my second competition of the year. So, to be here and be selected and to have the selectors have the confidence in me that we can come out and do this and perform, given everything that has happened to me this year, is brilliant.

“I haven’t had ideal preparation for this competition by any means. I thought when I got back from my honeymoon, that’s fine I’ve got three months to get really fit, really good, ready for this, but then for that to be halved because I was so poorly wasn’t great, but I’m just so happy with the way that she dealt with everything in there, I just need to find the brakes before Saturday!

While Lottie might have been in a rush to get back for her dinner in the stables, the test still had plenty to like, including a toe-flicking medium trot and positive walk. Overall, Natasha was really pleased with what her dancing partner had produced.

“Obviously, as athletes we come here for bling [medals], but ultimately, we come here to do our best. There’s honestly nothing I think I could have done better in that test, she was towing me around, and I was just trying to hang on and point her in the right direction – that last leg yield wasn’t even a leg yield!” Tash jested. “She was much more settled in the walk, and that’s what we’ve been working on. Normally, I don’t have to think about the trot, the trot kind of takes care of itself.

It's easy to forget that Lottie still only has very limited competition experience with Natasha, given how she seems to take everything – even at an occasion such as this – in her stride.

“She’s just such an amazing horse, she’s so lovely,” gushed Natasha. “This is only the second time she’s been abroad, it’s her first time in an arena like this, with an atmosphere, with an audience, and each time we learn more and more about each other, and grow in confidence, and it’s all progressing towards Paris. That’s obviously the end goal and this is just another step in the right direction for that,” she celebrated.

The Grade 3 bronze went to Rebecca Hart and El Corona Texel from the USA on 73.147%.

Sophie Wells and Don Cara M

In the electric Grade 5 competition, Belgian rider Michele George threw down an early gauntlet with her newest star, Best of 8, and it was quite a total – 76.419%. Immediately afterwards thanks to an early draw, came Britain’s final hope for another individual medal, Sophie Wells and Don Cara M.

The pair had exceeded all expectations in Tokyo and, with further complications with Sophie’s long-term partner C Fatal Attraction, ‘Don’ has now taken on the mantle of her main competition ride. The uber-sensitive black Dutch-bred gelding, who’s owned by Rowland Kinch, has taken well to his new para career and the duo has really progressed their partnership under the watchful eye of coach Angela Weiss and occasional, but hugely influential, training from Carl Hester.

The Don Jovi-sired gelding looked full of energy today and it was down to Sophie to channel that energy positively, which she managed well on the whole. A miscommunication in a canter strike-off was the only notable error, which threw some threes and fours into scores where most movements had been rewarded with marks over seven with a smattering of nines. The final total was 75.279%, so not quite enough to overtake her long-term rival Michele, but enough to keep Frank Hosmar and Alphaville NOP for the Netherlands on the third step of the podium by a whisker on 75.256%.

“He felt a bit nervous as I went in,” Sophie explained. “It’s a bit of a weird atmosphere in there - it’s a bit quiet but there’s a bit of a buzz. I was pleased with the trot work, I had to be a bit careful because I wasn’t on full power, but he felt really good. I didn’t see the mistake coming in the walk to canter, but he kind of does that when he’s a bit nervous, he did it in Tokyo. So, it is what it is, but then he came back to me, and it was fine. The canter work was good.

“There was lots of stuff I was really pleased with in there. Although it’s his second championship, Tokyo was really weird. I didn’t know him as well, but also I haven’t been up against anyone else [since then] so I don’t know where we’re at, so it’s really nice to have got the first one in the bag. Just waiting until the last one is really hard!”

Sophie used the fact that her semi-regular trainer, Carl Hester, was ‘in town’ with the dressage squad to have some fine-tuning ahead of her test, and the maestro certainly gave her some last-minute tips and a welcome confidence boost.

“It was really nice of him [Carl] to come over the last couple of days. It’s been a good couple of years since we’ve been working together, so it just really compliments everything I’ve been doing with my regular coach Angela [Weiss] for the last 20 years. He’s a master and I really appreciate the time.

“Everything he says is so simple but so wise, and he just makes it feel really easy and sound easy. It’s been brilliant watching the dressage guys in the last week – it’s just bonkers isn’t it – and it’s where we aspire to be anywhere near at any point in the future,” she enthused.

There’s so much more in the tank,” she said of her dancing partner. “I’m still at the point where I can’t ask for 70% of what he’s got, but it’s still enough. I came here and it’s such a different mindset to with Jorge [C Fatal Attraction] because with him I was like ‘I’m absolutely going to go and have it’. But with Don, because he’s such a different personality, I want to go in and just show him off to the best of his ability and what I can get out of him during the show is amazing,” she summed up.

Coming up

Tomorrow we start on the team competition which runs over the next 48 hours. Grades 1, 2 and 4 are in action first, followed up with 3 and 5 on Saturday, which will decide the medals and importantly the seven teams who secure a spot for Paris in 2024.

You can access the full results via our Herning Hub. Tomorrow’s competition will be available to stream on ClipMyHorse.TV from 10:00 BST.