Rio 2016: 'Horse Whisperer' Natasha Baker chasing dressage gold

Natasha Baker
Baker and Cabral competing in the team event on Tuesday
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Venue: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Dates: 7-18 September Time in Rio: BST -4
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Dressage riders usually rely on a secret language of minute lower-half squeezes and taps to guide their horse and conduct the choreography.

Natasha Baker's lines of communication are more tenuous.

"I can't use my legs at all when I ride so I have to talk to my horses to get them going," the woman nicknamed 'the Horse Whisperer' told the Daily Mirror.external-link

"I can make the smallest of noises and they know what I want them to do."

After contracting transverse myelitis, a virus that damages the spine, at the age of 14 months, she has permanent nerve damage and weakness in her legs.

However through her voice and tiny changes in her seat position, the 26-year-old from Hammersmith can guide half a tonne of equine flesh and blood around the parade ring.

And in some style.

Back at the London 2012 Paralympics, Baker and mount Cabral won double gold.

Baker cannot remember life without her condition. And does not want to imagine a future without it either.

"I never knew what it was like to walk normally or to be able to run," she added.

"It has affected my whole life but in a positive way. If I didn't have this disability I wouldn't be sitting here in Rio. I feel so privileged to be in the position I am. I wouldn't want it any other way.

Sophie Wells and Natasha Baker
Natasha Baker (right) celebrated with British team-mate Sophie Wells (left) after her dressage gold on Wednesday

"If somebody came over to me tomorrow and said: 'We've got a cure for your disability,' I wouldn't take it."

Baker first sat on a horse at six months old and grew up around them on a farm, before watching the 2000 Games in Sydney and deciding that she wanted to be a para-dressage rider.

She teamed up with Cabral in 2009 and, while she initially intended to train up stable-mate Bam Bam in the wake of London 2012, the pair have stayed together to defend their titles in Rio.

So far, so good on that front.

In the dressage team event on Tuesday, Baker calmed an initially spooked Cabral to coax him to a class-topping score of 71.882%.

On Thursday she followed up her success in London by winning her second individual Paralympic gold on board Cabral.

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