Riding High

Leron Hanover takes owner on the trip of a lifetime

Standardbreds are consistently showing their versatility, whether it’s for riding or driving, for show or pleasure. Hoof Beats is happy to share stories from readers about their favorite retired Standardbreds. This month, Megan Rider writes about former racing trotter Leron Hanover, who has found a new career in the show ring.

Standardbreds rarely let setbacks overcome their will and desire to please. They also possess an uncanny ability to approach new tasks with eagerness and a sense of comfortability. For Leron Hanover, his time on the racetrack was short, but he has not let that, or a seemingly considerable physical flaw, stop him from taking his owner, Kate Kennedy, on the ride of her life.

Kennedy was roped into loving horses as a youngster, as she grew up with a neighbor who owned one in her hometown of East Windsor, N.J. She took riding lessons as a child, and at 14 got a job on a Standardbred farm in Hillsboro cleaning stalls.

“When I was 16, I rode my bike to Englishtown to work at Showplace, which was a large training center at the time, but has since been demolished,” Kennedy said. “I worked in the therapy barn which focused on swimming and rehabilitating horses. That was my first real taste of racehorses and being in the business. I eventually got a job as a veterinary technician and went back and forth between that and grooming.”

Foaled in March of 2009, Leron Hanover is a full sibling to Luckycharm Hanover ($430,056) and Lilu Hanover ($217,313).

Trainer Richard “Nifty” Norman purchased the gelding as a yearling at the 2010 Standardbred Horse Sale for $30,000 after the horse fractured a coffin bone as a weanling. Subsequently, Leron Hanover retained only a third of that bone in his left hind leg.

When Norman brought him home, the gelding resided in Kennedy’s section of the barn. Coincidentally, she had cared for the world champion mare Beatgoeson Hanover (Andover Hall, $1.15 million), who is also a half-sister to Leron Hanover’s dam and was also conditioned by Norman.

Kennedy was the one responsible for transporting Leron Hanover to what would be his only attempt to race at The Meadowlands as a 2-year-old. He finished seventh in that event after a sixth- and seventh-place finish in qualifying contests at Harrah’s Philadelphia.

“At the end of the mile, John Campbell walked over to me and said, ‘Find this one a new job,’” Kennedy said. “I laughed to myself, but little did I know that I would be the one to find him that new job.”

Needless to say, the Hall of Fame driver was spot on when it came to Leron Hanover’s future, as the gelding never made it to a pari-mutuel event. The horse, however, had captured a special place in Kennedy’s heart, so when she got word he might be placed in a new home, she leapt at the opportunity to make him her own.

“I ran to Nifty’s wife, Robyn, and asked if she thought he might let me have ‘Leroy,’” she said.

It was a match made in heaven.

Leron Hanover struggled with soreness during his abbreviated racing career and on the advice of veterinarian Dr. Jim Mitchell, Kennedy decided it was time to break him to ride while determining if he could ever return to the track.

“I wanted to improve his life and then hopefully race him again, but that never came to fruition,” she said.

He became Kennedy’s trail riding horse, and a short time later she was encouraged by many friends who were involved in the National Standardbred Show to enter Leron Hanover.

Kennedy was terrified, nervous, and adamant that she could not place him on that path. As fate would have it, she did enter the gelding in the National Standardbred Show in 2013. The duo won their first ribbon in the walk-trot-canter class. Leron Hanover never faltered and behaved as if he had shown his entire life. His fortitude and willingness to please provided plenty of opportunities to expand his horizons in the coming years.

Leron Hanover and Kennedy were separated for a short time, but when he was returned to her the two went on to achieve more than Kennedy ever imagined.

“I used to be terrified to canter, but lo and behold, we had gone on to compete in hunter paces and jumping and entered the National Standardbred Show in 2016,” she said. “[That is] when we entered the games division for the first time.”

Kennedy and the gelding began training for barrel racing shortly before the show, and the more runs Leron Hanover engaged in the more he appeared to enjoy his work. In fact, in Aug. 2017, the duo competed in the first Sam McKee Memorial Barrel Race.

“I met Ashley Tetrick for the first time at that barrel race, and she was so friendly and just wonderful,” Kennedy said. “It was the first time I competed on Leroy around barrels and we wound up winning some money.”

They subsequently participated in a barrel racing clinic that was put on by Jen Oberg to benefit the National Barrel Horse Association (NBHA). Kennedy joined the NBHA in 2018, and she and Leron Hanover competed in the Standardbred division that same year.

“We won the Standardbred division and reserve champion that year, and won the belt buckle, which New Vocations sponsored,” Kennedy said. “Who knew a humungous Standardbred would win a belt buckle?”

Last year was another year of new experiences and achievements for Kennedy and the gelding, with one of the highlights being their involvement in a clinic produced by the Northeast PA Posse club of the United Mounted Shooters, which is a high-speed, timed spectator sport in which the competitor that misses the least amount of targets with the swiftest time wins.

“They offered an intro to the mounted shooting clinic at the DREAM Park Equestrian Center in New Jersey,” Kennedy said. “A few of us went and spent the day, including Ashley Tetrick.

“Leroy was good at mounted shooting and he wasn’t bothered by the gunfire, but it is done in a gaming pen and he wanted to run the poles instead of go slow and shoot at them.”

The pair went on to compete in the NBHA open division and that would not be all they would accomplish, as they became the NBHA State Show winner and champion. They received a new saddle and qualified for the NBHA world championship.

“I can’t believe it sometimes,” Kennedy said. “I feel like I’m telling lies. This big trotter, who sometimes trots his first barrel, winds up qualifying for a world championship.”

Kennedy’s approach is extremely unorthodox when it comes to barrel racing.

“We don’t do barrel practicing,” she said. “We get it through barrel shows. He does not see a barrel until he goes to barrel race. His main exercise and workouts are trail rides and long trotting, with a lot of hill work and galloping, and I think that is what makes him enjoy it so much and excel. He isn’t miserable or having it drilled into him all the time. He has improved every time he has gone to a barrel race.”

This approach makes Leron Han-over’s accomplishments even more impressive.

“My No. 1 concern was to make Leroy happy,” Kennedy said. “He has turned into an athlete; it’s unbelievable. He’s very well-bred and has a huge stride. He is my whole life.

“He is kind of aloof. He’s not very ‘horsey.’ He wants other horses around him but doesn’t want them in his face. He doesn’t have great social skills but likes company. He is rock steady but a little strange and unconventional.”

Kennedy has already established goals for the upcoming season.

“I want to continue to improve on each of Leroy’s times and my riding,” she said. “I also want to learn to get out of his way, as I am sure he has a lot more speed in him. I want to keep him happy, healthy, and sound, and just go out and have fun together. I am continually amazed by him and what he gives to me and how he tries.”

Leron Hanover truly embodies the spirit, will and attitude Standardbreds possess. They aim to please, regardless of the circumstances, and are a reminder to never give up while striving to be the best.

Megan Rider is a freelance writer living in New York. To comment on this story, email us at readerforum@ustrotting.com.

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