The Carolina International: Massive Ian Stark cross country course, 4:41 pm ride time, and carnage all day long.
That daunting combination had me wondering all day that Saturday, “Why in the world do I want to do this?”
For some reason, before AP’s time off last year, I never really dealt with cross-country nerves, even at the three-star level. I’ve always been very casual on cross-country day, so this feeling of nervousness and anxiety was really new to me. As I walked the course one final time and watched the competitors in the three-star, I was not enjoying the pit that was growing in my stomach.
After several hours of watching problems all over the course, I went back to the barn to start getting ready. I hoped my nerves would settle once I got into my pre-cross-country routine, little things like getting dressed in the front seat of my truck while rocking out to some sweet tunes (I’m a big fan of Justin Bieber right now), doing AP’s studs, putting on his Flair Strip, searching in my tack stall for that one piece of equipment that I have inevitably misplaced.
I was sure I would find comfort in these rituals, but I didn’t. Even my self-deprecating jokes to my coach, Jon Holling, weren’t helping. The nerves just built and built.
Then I walked AP out of his stall, swung my leg over his back, and I was home. I immediately felt a huge sense of relief. All I needed was to sit on his back and feel him strut out to the warm-up to be reminded of our amazing partnership and his absolute beast-level cross-country abilities.
By the time we went to our first warm-up fence, I felt like we could tackle all of the very tough, yet genius, questions that Ian had laid out for us that day.
As I walked around the warm-up, now feeling like a kid on Christmas morning, I watched my friend and fellow student of Jon’s, Jordynn Sahagian, leave the start box for her second advanced on the 17-year-old horse that she’s had since she was a child. Jon walked back from the box after she left, and I said to him, “Is there anything cooler in this world than running around advanced on your childhood horse,” to which he just smiled and definitively said, “Nope not a thing.”
Six minutes out and ready to go, I walked around the warm-up thinking about the amazing partnerships that make an advanced pair tick. Sometimes it’s a partnership right from the start, the kind that Jordynn and I have with our horses of a lifetime. Sometimes it’s a partnership forged by sheer riding genius and that extra “something” that makes horses want to jump through fire for their rider.
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of going on cross-country with this amazing athlete. Photo by Lindsay Berreth
Regardless of the path we have taken to get to the start box, I think we are all there for the same reason: the exhilarating moments of what can only be described as transcendence that we all have out on that course.
The absolute privilege of riding a horse that loves running across advanced level cross-country is a feeling unlike any other I’ve experienced. Covering the ground with AP’s gallop when he’s looking for the next fence gives me chills, and there’s no other scenario in the world that lights him up in the same way.
That is second only to the feeling he gives me as we gallop down to a max height and width oxer. About seven strides out, you feel him lock on and start sizing up his own distance. Then, as I sink down into the tack, AP’s shoulder starts to lift as he decides how much balance he needs for the jump ahead of him.
At that point, with both of our eyes kicked in, it’s a matter of waiting for AP to put his incredible scope to use, a moment that embodies precision, power, and that second of air time where there is nothing but my horse and I.
If Mozart was a genius of music, Einstein a genius of physics, Picasso a genius of art, then AP is a genius of jumping massive solid fences out of stride.
So to answer my own question, “Why do I do this?” There’s not much in this world that’s more special than being in the presence of sheer genius.
My up close and personal glimpse into something truly exceptional in this world is AP Prime. I do this for the moments on cross-country when he shares his extraordinary talent with me and am humbled that he has deemed me worthy to be the other half of our partnership.
Leah Lang-Gluscic’s living every young eventer’s dream—competing at the upper levels with an off-the-track Thoroughbred horse of a lifetime who cost less than most saddles. But Lang-Gluscic didn’t jump right into life as a professional eventer. After graduating from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in finance and accounting, she spent two years working at an investment banking firm. Even then she found time to ride, but in 2010, she decided to dive in and bought her facility in Freeport, Ill., and begin LLG Eventing.
Lang-Gluscic made waves in 2015 by entering her fairytale OTTB, AP Prime, in the Rolex Kentucky CCI****. She withdrew after the dressage, but is aiming to return to the Kentucky Horse Park again this spring. We’ll be following along as she blogs for www.coth.com!
Read more about Leah and AP in the 2015 COTH article “One To Watch: Leah Lang-Gluscic Will Represent OTTBs With AP Prime At Rolex Kentucky.” You can read all her COTH blogs here.