Izzy Palmer comes bounding over at the national championships, keen to speak to anyone and everyone. The bubbly 15-year-old’s enthusiasm is infectious.
“Amazing” is the most-used word during our interview, and that certainly describes the Leeds-based, grade III para rider’s journey over the past four years.
Today, Izzy is riding Pinocchio (Noki), the 19-year-old chestnut gelding whom Sophie Wells rode to team gold and two individual silver medals at London 2012.
“I was 12 when I watched the London Paralympics, and it was Sophie and Noki who inspired me in the first place. To be riding him now is amazing.”
A chance meeting at a para-dressage qualifier led to Sophie mentoring Izzy, and she took over the ride on Noki in January of this year. In just eight months, the pair have notched up a string of successes, including third overall in this morning’s gold para dressage championship.
“I saw her at a show, and she was like a celebrity to me — I asked for a photo; she was my idol.” It wasn’t until 2013 that Sophie spotted Izzy riding at a show and offered to train her.
“She inspires me every day, she’s so dedicated and puts so much into training and mentoring me.” Sophie has even been training Izzy over Skype from Rio.
“It just shows dedicated she is, that she’s somewhere like that and still helping me.” Izzy looks star-struck even thinking about it.
“I’m so grateful, not just to Sophie, but Nina Venables, the World Class programme, National Lottery funding, and Noki’s owners, Jackie and Neil Walker.”
Taking the reins of a medal-winning horse would be daunting for most riders, but Izzy is remarkably cool under the pressure.
“It is in the back of my mind, but you’ve just got to ride to the best of your ability.”
She is also riding Sophie’s Beijing mount, Touchdown, and is “learning so much from both horses.”
“It was such a jump up from ponies, I didn’t think it would be so different. Touchdown is more sensitive, so it’s about getting to know him.”
Tokyo 2020 is firmly on her radar.
“A lot can happen in four years, but I’m following my dream. What Sophie has achieved in Rio is absolutely incredible, it’s inspired me even more.”
For a full report from the British Dressage national championships — including analysis, comment and insight — pick up a copy of Horse & Hound next Thursday, 22 September.