By Julie Huss
---- — DERRY — King of Spades is his official competition name. Around the barn, he’s known as Leroy.
This horse spends some days grazing in a Chester field, but he also works hard with one local middle-schooler — a successful team making strides on the equestrian circuit.
Taylor Svenconis, 14, is a rider with a mission — to win big on Leroy and learn as much as she can about horses and competition.
The West Running Brook Middle School eighth-grader recently competed in New York state for the Interscholastic Equestrian Association Championship. She placed third in hunter/jumper events, bringing her middle school age group team to a sixth-place ranking nationwide.
Taylor regularly competes in New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine; she has won many awards for her riding talents.
It’s not just Taylor earning the ribbons. Leroy also puts his best hoof forward.
The horse lives at Senator Bell Farm in Chester, a sprawling property that hosts regular horse shows, offers lessons and boards dozens of animals.
Taylor goes to Senator Bell on almost a daily basis, retrieving Leroy from his stall for some practice in a nearby corral.
Competitions take up most of the young girl’s weekends, but she still finds time to be a straight-A honors students and take part in school track team events.
Taylor has a strong support system. Grandmother Gloria Svenconis is a regular fixture at competitions, traveling with her granddaughter and offering moral support and financial help.
“If I didn’t have Nana, I wouldn’t be doing shows,” Taylor said.
Her grandmother may not be on the back of a horse, but Taylor’s mother, Tanya Allen, said it’s almost like being there.
She even helps her granddaughter clean the stall. Leroy’s stall has a special name plaque attached.
“She gets to experience everything, too,” Allen said. “Nana goes to every single horse show.”
Another big fan is Taylor’s great-grandfather, Frank Joyce, who lives in Louisiana and can’t get enough of the horse world via Facebook. At 85, he’s becoming a whiz on social media to keep track of his great-granddaughter’s success.
“He’s her biggest fan,” Allen said. “Taylor literally keeps him alive. He gets on Facebook and all he knows is how to scroll down to see Taylor. Then he calls me to say how proud he is.”
Adams said she often worries about her daughter during competitions when there is so much jumping, galloping and uncertainty about riding a 1,000-pound horse and its unpredictable behavior.
The slightest glance at a bird could send Leroy off on a gallop in an opposite direction.
Still, the good outweighs those worries, Allen said. Her daughter is learning a lot sitting on Leroy’s back.
“She learns responsibility, hard work and many good lessons,” she said. “It’s a special connection with Leroy. They bond.”
That bond will someday end as Taylor grows older. She will someday need a larger horse for her competitive work.
Adams said her daughter is working hard both on Leroy’s back and in the classroom. She has drive and passion, her mother said.
“She puts in 100 percent,” she said. “She has goals.”
Taylor is also excited about taking her equestrian talents to the high school circuit once she attends Pinkerton Academy.
For now, she and Leroy are a team.
“I talk to him; he is awesome,” Taylor said. “Horses are also therapeutic, they can calm you down.”