Equestrian: Leeds’ own Izzy Palmer riding high in para-dressage

Izzy Palmer with her horse Coco.
Izzy Palmer with her horse Coco.
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UPON becoming a winner at this year’s Leeds Sports Awards, Rawdon’s Izzy Palmer admitted the clicks of a camera and requests for interviews were unfamiliar, uncomfortable territory.

“It’s a bit daunting I suppose because I am not used to it!” admitted the 14-year-old.

But she’s quickly becoming a natural – rather like her talents in the saddle with the teenager aiming to put Leeds on the world-wide para-dressage map at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.

Menston-based St Mary’s Catholic High School pupil Palmer was named young disability sportsperson of the year at last month’s Leeds Sports Awards for her achievements in a sport not associated with Yorkshire’s biggest city.

Yet there’s no hiding the Leeds links of the Year 9 ace who has born in the city’s Leeds General Infirmary and attended St Peter & Paul Catholic Primary School in Yeadon.

And neither is there any hiding Palmer’s talents as a para-dressage rider with the teenager now the youngest member of Team GB’s BEF UK sport lottery funded World Class Development Programme – across all sports – aimed at nurturing athletes towards Olympic and Paralympic glory.

Palmer was selected for the scheme last December after being crowned a double national champion in a sport more associated with rural areas than Leeds.

But there’s no disguising the youngster’s passion for the city and area in which she was raised and any success at the likes of Tokyo 2020 will be a triumph for Team GB but also for Leeds.

Palmer told the YEP: “I guess Leeds is not that well known for dressage but I live in Rawdon and we’re about a mile from Leeds/Bradford airport.

“Then the horses are based in East Keswick so I’m very near Leeds.

“You always remember where you are from, don’t you? And I’m definitely from Leeds!

“I think the sport has become more and more recognised, especially dressage through Charlotte Dujardin and everything she has done.

“That’s got the sport more recognised which is great.

“I started para-dressage two years ago and I’ve ridden since I was two.

“Now I’ve got on to the World Class Development Programme and I’m the current national champion.

“Things are going really well!”

Palmer was born with cerebral palsy and diagnosed with right sided hemiplegia which can affect her balance.

Yet the Leeds star has proved a natural on horseback since being introduced to riding by mum Caroline when she was two years old.

Riding was initially a hobby and kind of physio for Palmer but the success of world number one and world champion Dujardin at the London 2012 Olympics prompted the youngster to become classified for para- dressage.

Palmer began competing in 2013 and won the Para Talent Development competition before becoming a double national champion in 2014, winning the Grade 3 Restricted Nationals at both the Winter and Summer Dressage Championships on Gregonne Coco Chanel.

Eighteen-year-old ‘Coco’, on loan from British Dressage judge Alison Duck, is the equine star responsible for taking Palmer up the para-dressage ladder while seven-year-old Renoir – owned by Fiona Coles – has been bought with the future in mind.

It’s been a rapid rise for a rider who made the British Equestrian Federation Excel Talent Programme in 2013 and is now setting her sights on lofty ambitions with all roads leading to Tokyo 2020.

“Mum introduced to me horses and I started riding when I was two,” recalled Palmer, sponsored by Plevin Products and Carr & Day & Martin.

“Para-dressage started two years and it was more of a hobby until then.

“But now it’s turned into something else and with the Olympics and everything I have been really inspired and my overall aim for the future is Tokyo 2020.

“I’ll only be 15 by Rio and the horse power isn’t there yet and I’m also aiming for the World Equestrian Games and the Europeans and three star internationals abroad.

“We are just looking for the next ride really, to take me from Coco onwards.

“As far as Tokyo is concerned, if I have the horse power by that stage then I’m good enough to go and hopefully I can get there! If I got there and won a medal it would be a bit surreal but it would be amazing and that’s the dream.”

Given the last two years’ rapid progress, Palmer has every chance of fulfilling those dreams but the recent success has not come without a huge amount of dedication and hard work. The Palmer family live in Rawdon but their horses are based at a private yard in East Keswick while Palmer trains fortnightly with Angela Weiss and Sophie Wells – her mentor – in Nottingham.

Lincoln-born Wells bagged two silvers and a gold at the London 2012 Paralympics and highlighted Palmer as ‘one to watch’ in the Horse & Hound magazine in 2013 before becoming her mentor.

Palmer’s dad Andrew is also a full time driving instructor and heads a family that also includes the para-dressage star’s two younger sisters, 12-year-old Jessica and 10-year-old Olivia.

It was the older sister of the three putting the family’s name up in lights at last month’s Leeds Sports Awards, recognition of which clearly came as a surprise of the para-dressage rider. Palmer edged out Danielle Bailey and Kizzy Blue Wade and admitted: “It means a lot and I am delighted to have won.

“It’s amazing really. Incredible. I didn’t expect to win so it was a surprise and it was lovely to have one.”

And more nice surprises likely lie just around the corner for Britain’s most promising young para-dressage star – which will mean more opportunity for Palmer to develop a blossoming relationship with the media. Asked what she thought about all the increased attention over the last two years, Palmer said: “It’s a bit daunting I suppose because I am not used to it – talking to people and doing things like this!

“But I think over time I’ll get used to it. I do get nervous but I think the more I get used to it the better I’ll be.”

Not that it really matters, after all, as Palmer laughed: “I don’t get nervous about riding anyway!”