“I’m on my own. I’m used to the gypsy lifestyle. I drive all over the country by myself. It’s all good!” said Leah Lang-Gluscic when she answered my phone call while driving to Kentucky from Ocala, Fla.
On her way to the biggest event of her career, the Rolex Kentucky CCI****, Lang-Gluscic’s star has been rising over the last year with her $750 off-the-track Thoroughbred AP Prime. And she’s done it all on her own, logging many miles with the trailer in pursuit of success at the upper levels.
But five years ago, Lang-Gluscic was languishing away in a high stress job as an investment banking analyst in Washington D.C., aching to be able to ride more often. Lang-Gluscic grew up riding at the Ethel Walker School in Connecticut and got hooked on eventing and foxhunting. After being accepted to the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned her degree in finance, Lang-Gluscic knew she’d need to find a high paying job to afford the sport she loved.
“I did that for two years. I had great bosses,” she said. “But I spent 12 to 16 hours a day in a cubicle, and being someone who loves to be outside and loves horses, that was quickly eating away at my soul. It’s the kind of job where you’re always on call. I can’t tell you how many 10 p.m. Friday night emails I got.”
She tried to ride when she could by helping keep hunt horses going at Old Dominion Foxhounds (Va.), but the stress of D.C. traffic and long days was too much to handle. A trip home in late 2009 to visit her parents inspired Lang-Gluscic to make a go of being an eventing professional. With their help, she made a five-year business plan and quit her job that April.
Lang-Gluscic bought a farm about 10 minutes from her family in Freeport, Ill., and began building her business, which consisted of two horses at the time. Setting up in a place that was at least 30 minutes from anything horse-related was tough, but things started looking up for Lang-Gluscic.
“It was terrifying! It’s still terrifying,” she said. “You have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable all the time. The first year was really hard. I got to Illinois in November, and there was nothing going on at that time of year. It was five months of riding every day, trying to get better, not really knowing anyone and having no resources. I felt like I was an island. Spring came along, and I got out to the events and started meeting people and making connections. It started looking a lot more hopeful.”
During that first year, Lang-Gluscic was on the hunt for a prospect, flipping through ads for anything that stood out. She came across AP’s listing on CANTER’s website and made a stop at a small Martinsville, Ill., track during a snowy day in December. As she walked through the barn aisle, AP stuck his head out of his stall, and Lang-Gluscic crossed her fingers he would be the one the trainer pulled out.
He was, but he was listed for sale at $2,000—more than she wanted to spend, especially if she did a vetting. She haggled a bit and got the then-5-year-old for $750. The gelding (Aptitude—Czarina Kate, The Prime Minister) had been well-cared for and had something in his eye that she noticed.
“He knows that there’s something special about him. I’m not sure he knew then, but he certainly does now! He’s got major presence,” she said.
As Lang-Gluscic began training AP, she quickly realized he wouldn’t be a resale project.
“The first time I put a pole on the ground and asked him to walk over it, he really thought about it for a long time. The second he did, he hasn’t questioned jumping ever since,” she said. “He really loved the job. He came through the finish flags [at his first beginner novice] the way he did at [the Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International CCI*** (Md.)]—so proud of himself and so amped up. He was on a high from going beginner novice cross-country.”
The pair spent a year and a half at intermediate to focus on AP’s flatwork and show jumping and it was “no big deal” when they moved up to advanced last year with the help of Jonathan Holling, Peter Gray and Joe Meyer. With a top-20 finish in the Jaguar Land Rover Bromont CCI*** (Quebec) and a confident and clear cross-country round in the Fair Hill CCI*** last year, Lang-Gluscic, 29, knew Rolex would be a possibility.
“He had two holds at Fair Hill,” she said. “He was completely unfazed—such a professional. The second hold—I was a wreck because I come galloping over the hill and there are blue tarps on the ground, and I have no idea why. I had the most intense roller coaster of emotions and he was like, ‘Whatever. When do I get to keep going cross-country?’ ”
This spring, Lang-Gluscic and AP finished third in the advanced at Red Hills (Fla.) but had a crashing fall on the flat during show jumping at The Fork (N.C.) and so weren’t able to jump cross-country. Both of them were a little bruised, but after doing a combined test at Ocala (Fla.), they’re back on track.
“It was brutal. Everything else has been perfect,” said Lang-Gluscic. “Not getting to run at The Fork wasn’t a deal breaker for me. He just cantered around Red Hills and ate it up. It wasn’t ideal [what happened] at The Fork, but it had nothing to do with the quality of his jumping or the riding—it was a freak thing. When the vets cleared him, he cantered around the intermediate at Ocala. He’s the same horse I had at Fair Hill. He’s not the kind of horse that needs a lot of runs.”
With the help of Gray on the flat, Lang-Gluscic is hoping for a good dressage score, and she’s excited to unleash AP on cross-country.
“He loves a good, forward, challenging cross-country course, so this is kind of the epitome of that. I’m hoping he’ll love it. That’s the gift I get to give back to him—to show him something like this every once in awhile,” she said. “We know each other inside out. When I ride him cross-country, when he’s on, we just both go to another place. He goes in a double-jointed snaffle. There’s no fighting—he knows his job, I know how to help him do his job, and it’s an incredible partnership. It’s a privilege and a gift to get to ride him. To be able to go into Rolex on a horse I know that well and that knows me that well and tries so hard for me—I can’t imagine a better first go.”
Lang-Gluscic is also proud to be representing off-the-track Thoroughbreds in eventing and hopes everyone can be inspired by AP’s story.
“He’s such an incredible ambassador,” she said. “He’s not the perfect horse by any means—conformationally he has flaws. He’d never pass a vetting. But he has all the heart in the world to make up for it. There are not a lot of horses in this world that would try the way he does. I feel very honored and lucky enough to have found him and go along his journey with him. He was destined for this—I’m just the lucky person who happened upon him.”
Want to keep up with how AP Prime and Lang-Gluscic do at Rolex Kentucky this week, April 23-26? Make sure to follow along with the Chronicle’s coverage of the event at www.coth.com and on the COTH Facebook page. We’ll have photos, behind-the-scenes details and all the news and stories you need. We’ll make sure to keep you up-to-date on how AP Prime and Lang-Gluscic do, too!