The 24-year-old daredevil – one of America’s top vaulters – is prepping for the 2020 World Championships in Sweden.
Imagine doing handstands, Arabesques and splits, then launching into flips and twirling gracefully through the air. Now, imagine doing it all on horseback.
That’s the sport of vaulting — the challenge Kimberly Palmer loves and the skill she hopes will take her to the 2020 World Championships in Sweden.
“I love the freeness to it,” Kimberly says. “While vaulting, my mind becomes clear. Outside stress disappears and I focus on becoming the best I can be. It’s the feeling I love most, one that can’t be replaced.”
A truly mind-boggling equestrian discipline, vaulting consists of a horse cantering in a circle with a lunger in the middle of the ring while the vaulter (or vaulters) performs aerial gymnastics on, off and all around the horse.
“It’s a physically and mentally challenging sport,” says Kimberly, 24. “My bravery and my willingness to do it are tested on a daily basis while training.”
Kimberly’s laundry list of injuries includes a broken foot, a torn meniscus that required surgery, and ankles sprained more times than she can count. She even suffered a concussion that took her out of competition for an entire season.
“I was dizzy with headaches for six months,” she says. “My confidence went out the window during my first few months back to training.”
Despite those setbacks, training is exactly what Kimberly wants to do right now. To make it to Sweden, she has to be fully committed to putting in the work — both on and off her horse.
Unlike many equestrian disciplines in which most training is spent with the horse, vaulting requires much more gym time. “I will continue to work on strengthening myself physically with weight training and bodyweight conditioning to prepare,” says Kimberly. “I also train in a gymnastics gym to keep up my strength and expand my skill level.”
Kimberly will spend time smoothing her choreographed routines, testing her endurance and improving any weak spots.
As with any high-intensity sport, mental toughness is crucial. “To help strengthen my mind, I will focus on repetition and visualization to ensure I flow without hesitation,” adds Kimberly.
Humor is also part of her preparation, to cut through the pressure. At competitions, “I often crack jokes leading up to the time I run in,” she says. “It helps me not overthink and keeps me relaxed.”
An Entrepreneurial Spirit
Alongside her older sister, Cassidy, Kimberly has accomplished some pretty incredible feats, including a 2015 victory in Verden, Germany, at the World Vaulting Championships.
Set to “Let It Go” from the modern Disney classic Frozen, the sister duo performed a flawless pas de deux. “We were on,” remembers Kimberly. “We flowed through our routine without hesitation.”
In addition to competing with her sister, Kimberly teams with her family in two other ventures in their hometown of Half Moon Bay, Calif.: Long Branch Farms, a unique old western town that hosts private events, and Granola’s, a bakery and coffeehouse.
“We prepare and bake all of our items in-house, including my own granola. I have a gluten and dairy allergy, so I wanted to open a place where people with the same types of allergies can come and enjoy a bakery item,” Kimberly says.
Looking toward the Future
Though she’s focused on representing Team USA at the 2020 World Championships, Kimberly is also aware that her competition days won’t last forever.
After her inevitable retirement from vaulting, Kimberly plans to devote most of her attention to Granola’s. “I would like to start expanding and figuring out new ways to grow,” she says.
But she knows she’ll want to stay active in the vaulting community.
“[Vaulting] will always be a side job and a hobby for me,” she says. “I want to continue coaching vaulting. I like to share my knowledge and give back to the sport with coaching and bringing passion to up-and-coming kids.”