Equestrian: Leeds rider Izzy Palmer targeting world, European and Paralympic success

IN A city not exactly associated with equine activity, there was a good reason for Leeds-born Izzy Palmer being placed on horseback at just two years old.

Team GB rider Izzy Palmer near her home in Rawdon. Picture: James Hardisty.

Mum Caroline had been a keen horse rider since she was 11 and hoped riding would act as a form of physiotherapy for her daughter’s condition of cerebral palsy.

Sixteen years on, as well as helping Izzy’s condition, placing the youngster on horseback might end up with the rider competing at the Paralympic Games.

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St Mary’s Menston Catholic Voluntary Academy pupil Palmer is regarded as one of the brightest young talents in the field of para-dressage with the rider named as one of Horse & Hound’s 12 stars of Christmas following a superb 2018.

Izzy Palmer.

Despite her tender years, the teenager was named as a reserve for last year’s World Equestrian Games in Tryon on her current ride Touchdown – one year on from also being named as a reserve for the 2017 European Championships in Gothenburg.

But Izzy is intent on starring at her sport’s major international team events in her own right with the 18-year-old now firmly in the reckoning to be selected to represent her country at next year’s Tokyo 2020 Paralympics with the insurance of Paris 2024 to aim for should next summer’s extravaganza arrive too soon.

Not bad for a discipline that was initially trialled merely to help with the youngster’s disability and, with natural talent, the discovery of looped reins and the influence of double Paralympic gold medallist Sophie Wells, the Rawdon-based teenager is on the crest of a para-dressage wave.

“Riding has acted as a form of physiotherapy for me as I have cerebral palsy causing right sided hemiplegia,” Izzy told the YEP.

“My mum has always been horse mad, so at the age of two I began riding!

“I always saw myself the same as everyone else and had nothing to aid me with my riding until I was 12 and discovered looped reins so that I could hold them more easily.

“Over the years I trained the right side of my body on the horse as my brain naturally wouldn’t tell my arm or leg to move or stay still like it would my left side.

“My major influence is Sophie Wells who inspired me to pick up para-dressage in 2012 and has mentored me since I was 13, hugely shaping where I am today which I’m very grateful for.

“Sophie is my coach and has also provided my horsepower since my pony retired in 2015.

“I was lucky enough to ride the very horse that inspired me in 2012 – Pinocchio – for two years who is an absolute legend and a big jump up from a pony as he’s a giant at 18hh.

“I also have to say a massive thank you to my parents and sisters, who have supported me the minute I began riding and sacrificed so much in order for me to chase my dream!

“I intend to campaign for Tokyo 2020 next year, although I’ll still be 19 and will definitely be aiming for Paris in 2024 too, when I’ll hopefully have more experience internationally and in high pressure environments to prepare me.”

Palmer’s success has been all the more remarkable considering the commitment and travel involved in a bid to reach the top.

Her two main competition rides are both based with Wells in Newark – quite handy then that Palmer’s dad Andrew is a driving instructor.

Plans are now fluid for 2019 with all roads hopefully leading to the European Championships in Rotterdam this summer but first and foremost the Palmer family which also include’s Izzy’s sisters, 14-year-old Olivia and 16-year-old-Jess, will have another chance to celebrate at next month’s Leeds Sports Awards.

As recognition for a superb 2018, Izzy is in the running to win the award for Student Sport, competing against the University of Leeds Boat Club, the University of Leeds Netball Club and the combined Leeds Beckett University rugby league trio of Connor Davies, Curtis Davies and Sion Jones. “I feel proud to be out there for Leeds in dressage as it is not a widely recognised sport so it’s really good to get it out there and make people aware of it,” beamed Izzy.

“I’m very honoured to have been nominated for another Leeds Sport Award, it’s a great event that I love attending and again great for the sport to get recognised at a prestigious event like the Leeds Sports Awards

“Last year was a great year and the highlight was being named as reserve with Touchdown, my current ride owned by Nicola and Sophie Wells, for the World Equestrian Games and the year before that as reserve for the Europeans.

“I never expected it and these are what I feel are the highs of my career as they take me closer to my goal of reaching a Paralympic Games.

“Another highlight would be winning all three days of competition at Hartpury CPEDI 3* international, and the arrival of my new dancing partner Bolly, who is the most lovely horse owned by Deborah Doyle.

“I learnt a lot in 2018, becoming an adult and also developing my mindset in order to deliver in the arena when it is needed most.”

Rotterdam, in August, is now the arena where Palmer hopes to flourish the most in 2019 – for the Europeans – but first up comes the task of excelling in the exam hall.

Izzy’s success, has, after all, also been achieved amidst studying her A-levels at St Mary’s.

It is, though, stepping out at her sport’s major competitions representing Team GB that is very much the overriding aim.

“I have carefully planned my year and competitions allowing time for revision and exams,” said Izzy.

“It is very busy and certainly keeps me on my toes! Once I have sat my A levels I’m looking forward to focusing all my attention on riding and my campaign, as it will be the first time ever I haven’t had to juggle both.

“For this year, my main aims and aspirations are to campaign for the Europeans in Rotterdam in August on Touchdown, ride against my foreign competitors and get my new ride Bolly out to international competitions ready for his campaign for Tokyo 2020 next year.

“My ultimate goals are to compete at the Europeans, World Equestrian Games and a Paralympic Games.”

Fair to say that encouraging Izzy to take up riding aged two is looking a pretty smart move.