STUDENT Tara Wilkinson is making a name for herself in one of the toughest and most demanding of sports.
The 15-year-old pupil at Hipperholme and Lightcliffe High School has just become national champion in a sport favoured by royalty - and now she is off to Austria to compete at international level.
Earlier this year Tara became British Young Driver Champion at carriage driving, competing with her nine-year-old pony Joe in the dressage, cones and obstacle sections at Keysoe in Bedfordshire.
Success in the event led to horse-mad Tara being picked for the GB Drivers team and the chance to compete in Vienna. She sets off tomorrow with her family for a three-day journey to the Austrian capital in time for the event.
Carriage driving’s most famous practitioner is the sport’s patron, Prince Philip, who still takes part at the age of 91.
“It tends to be associated with older people but there are a lot of younger people taking part now,” said Tara who lives with her family - mum Leslee, dad John and brother Ross, aged 16 - in Shelf. Her parents have also become keen competitiors over the past three years and encouraged their daughter’s interest.
“It’s quite demanding and you have to be quite strong and brave, I guess - but I just love it,” said Tara.
“Joe is quite a fiery horse but he really seems to enjoy competing. I had a couple of falls in my first season and got a few knocks and bruises but it hasn’t put me off.”
Hipperholme and Lightcliffe High School’s assistant cook Dianne Macrae is also involved in the sport and sometimes competes with Tara and her family.
“I sometimes act as backstepper for Tara - that’s the person who stands at the back of the carriage to add stability and to make sure the horse and driver are okay if anything happens. It is a sport that demands speed and accuracy - but Tara seems to have nerves of steel,” said Dianne.
Dianne also has her own pony, Peggy, and is beginning to compete in the sport herself.
“There’s a good atmosphere at carriage driving events. Everyone’s very friendly and interested in each other’s horses.”
Tara has to fit in her sporting activities round her schoolwork but she manages to practise every day.
“Going to Austria is the biggest competition I’ve faced so far. We travel overland with the horsebox and the carriage so it takes about three days to get there,” said Tara.
In Austria she will take part in three sections and she expects the competition to be tough.
Now, as a member of the Young British Drivers Association, sporty Tara is raising sponsorship to fund the trip.
In September she will again be in the spotlight, competing in a major contest at Windsor Castle.
l Anyone who can sponsor Tara is asked to contact her on 01274 817861.