TOWNSHEND -- Every morning, Kayla Royce tends to her four quarter horses on her family farm, located in Townshend. Before she leaves for Leland & Gray Union, where the 16-year-old junior attends school, Royce prepares the animals for their crack-of-dawn routine.

"It is a lot of work. I try to do all the barn chores on my own," said Royce, who admits her dad Bo often helps out with the morning duties.

Once the day's academics are in order, Royce returns home to again care for her four-legged friends. In her spare time, Royce also takes care of her friends' horses, which involves cleaning, grooming, feeding, and of course, riding them around the countryside. "If it's not too cold," said Royce.

But Royce isn't just a skilled caretaker who enjoys the company of her beautiful beasts. She also enjoys a good rodeo.

"I'm a barrel racer," said Royce, who has qualified for the National Barrel Horse Association Youth World, a mid-summer championship event to be held on the fairgrounds of Perry, Georgia.

To qualify, Royce took top honors at a recent rodeo competition held at Pond Hill Ranch, an indoor/outdoor facility, located in Castleton. The win gave Royce "VT01 Division" status.

Additional accolades include a first place finish at the Cobleskill Rodeo, in New York state. "I was the only competitor to have a 14-second time," said Royce.

Other previous wins also helped Royce achieve a sixth-place ranking in the NHSRA, or National High School Rodeo Association, all around division.

In order to get to Perry though, with horses Drifter, Charlie, and Heart in tow, Royce will have to rely on community support.

One person who has been by Royce's side all along is Denise Marcum.

"I'm hoping people will sponsor her," said Marcum. "Even if they just want to give $10. Anything helps."

Marcum owns and operates N.V. Farms in Chester. She and Royce met through Marcum's daughter, Katherine, who has always been Royce's riding partner and best friend.

"Denise goes to most of the events with me," said Royce. "She's like a second mother. And Katherine's like a sister."

Royce and Marcum attend events all over the country, which have included recent trips to Nashville, TN, and Texas.

The trip to Georgia will be Royce's first.

"Kayla's worked really hard, and she does everything herself," said Marcum. "She doesn't have much help. She gets these horses fit and ready, works hard to go to all these competitions, and that's something you don't see a lot of anymore."

Thus far, Royce has only raised about $1000, and she is hoping to raise a little over $3000. Royce said she plans on doing a few fundraisers and bake sales around the area to supplement funding.

"She has the ambition to do it," said Marcum. "I feel that she will go a long way because of it. As far as her training goes, I can't take all the credit."

Royce's parents, Bo and Andrea, have always supported their talented daughter.

Barrel racing, a timed event, is featured at every rodeo. "You've got to know how to ride. These horses are fast," noted Marcum. "The rider has to be fit, the horse has to be fit. It takes a lot to get them to that point."

Donations can be done by check, made out and sent to: Kayla Royce, P.O. Box 601, Townshend, VT 05353. Or, donators can give Kayla a call at 802-258-0529.

Royce requests that people leave a message on her voice mail, and she will return the call.

David Aquino can be reached at daquino@reformer.com, or by calling 802-254-2311, ext. 164.