A sportsman with cerebal palsy is on course to take on leading athletes in a top competition for horse and carriage driving.
Determined Matt Palamarczuk, 36, is being supported in the challenge by his employers at the Pendine Park care organisation in Wrexham where he has worked as an administrative assistant for five years.
Matt is aiming to contest the carriage dressage class at the prestigious Riding for the Disabled Association National Championships at Hartpury College, Gloucestershire, from July 15-17.
But first he has to get through the qualifiers this May, impressing top judges with his accomplished carriage riding control skills at the sport made famous by the late Duke of Edinburgh.
Matt’s condition means he uses a wheelchair and his mobility and speech are severely restricted, but the keen sports fan has never let his cerebal palsy deter him from new challenges.
He’s also a qualified coach in the sport called Boccia, a target ball game which is similar to bowls and is for athletes with disabilities that have a major impact on motor skills.
His bosses at Pendine Park have enabled him to change his workdays so that he can train weekly at Clwyd Special Riding Centre in Llanfynydd.
Expert horsewoman Ann Connolly is putting him through his paces in readiness for the qualifying rounds which will be judged at Llanfynydd. A past dressage champion herself, she is confident Matt has what is takes to reach the competition finals.
She is in awe of his steely focus and dedication to the sport.
Ann said: “He has a real empathy with the horses which is vital. It helps that he is a rider and has been coming to our centre here at Llanfynydd for a number of years.
“But he also works hard, he listens well and takes on board all the advice our training team offers. When he is not at the centre he spends time familiarising himself with the diagrams of the competition course layout so he knows exactly which directions to steer the horse. It is a pleasure to coach him.”
Matt has already proved his capabilities on a past occasion, having qualified on his first attempt and gained a fourth place in the novice class of the championships in 2019.
That was after he first switched disciplines from horseback to carriage riding. To add to his excitement, the 2019 event was filmed by BBC television’s Countryfile team.
But the coronavirus pandemic meant the live championships were subsequently cancelled for the next two successive years. So Matt is especially ambitious to work his way up the rankings at the July 2022 event as it will be the first time that the tournament is back to its full format.
He said: “I am really grateful to my managers at Pendine Park who have agreed to me changing the days I work so I can do this. They have been hugely supportive. I’m also thankful to Ann and everyone at the riding centre who has got right behind me and given me the confidence to be able to do this. They are brilliant with all the riders and give us so much encouragement whether it is preparing for competitions or just in gaining enjoyment out of riding in general.”
He added: “At first when I was shown the layout of the competition course it looked so complicated. There are several parts to it including guiding the horse and carriage around a series of cones, and obstacles, but with Ann’s training it all makes much more sense and I know I can do it.”
As well as training in the carriage Matt also spends time each week developing his core strength with the assistance of the centre for equine learning and therapy group (CELT) at Llanfynydd, led by Sally McIntyre and Casey McDougall. It includes 30 minute workouts on a ‘mechanical horse’, which has helped developed the muscle power or many of the centre’s disabled riders.
Trainer Ann added that Matt was even unfazed when his usual horse, called Mouse, had to take some time out for equine physiotherapy and he had to work the carriage with another Welsh Cob called Mack.
But the pair quickly became friends and Matt has enjoyed rising to the extra demands of working with a new four-legged partner.
Matt is also a past winner of the Promoting Fulfilled Lives Award at the prestigious Wales Care Awards, he holds a Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award, he has been on skiing holidays in the French alps and he has just taken up wheelchair football with friends in Wrexham.
Pendine Park owner Mario Kreft MBE said: “We are all very proud of Matt’s many accomplishments and achievements.
“We are lucky to have him as a member of staff at Pendine because he is such an inspirational and determined role model for us all.
“We wish him success in the forthcoming horse and carriage driving competitions and whatever the result I am sure he will, as ever, acquit himself with great distinction.”
It was a sentiment echoed by Ann Serridge, the manager of the Pendine Academy of Social Care.
She said: “Matt is an extremely valuable member of the team here at Pendine and his good spirits and humour provide an uplifting presence.
“He works hard at everything he does, whether that is in work or in his sporting activities, and he deserves every success that he achieves.”