Today DiAnn Langer is a decade into her tenure as the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s youth jumping chef d’equipe, but back in the 1960s she was fresh out of the junior ranks and looking to move up in the world when she first met Fleet Apple. The Thoroughbred (Smart Apple—Fleetlee, Weston), owned by Kay Love, got his start in Utah, first on the track, then over fences, then made his way to California. He had scope to spare but loved a woman’s touch. In Langer he found a perfect partner.
“He was my first big jumper,” recalled Langer, who also took over the ride on Love’s hunters at the time as well. “I’d had a lot of other rides, but I’d mostly done junior jumpers. I’d had a few other horses, but nothing that was an extraordinary talent like that.”
Langer took care of Fleet Apple herself, and she remembers after winning a class at the Forum International Horse Show (California) everyone at the press conference had to wait for her to cool him out and wrap him before she could go talk about her win. At that time Langer was making ends meet by grooming for a western trainer during the day and competing Fleet Apple in the open jumper divisions at night.
“At that time all the disciplines were at the same show,” she said. “I would stay with a saddle seat rider, groom and get lessons from a western trainer—he really helped me learn to ride for speed—and go to dinner with hunter/jumper pros and friends. We were able to share information on what to do with different horses. We would always head up to the ring to watch our friends in the other disciplines.”
Langer recalls that this photo was taken in 1969 when she was 22 and Fleet Apple 10. They were competing in a fault-and-out class at the old Indio showgrounds.
“They just kept raising the entire course, and when you had it down, you’re out,” she said. “That jump was at the top of the standards, and he had impeccable form. For me he would just canter around like a hunter.
“In the two years I had him [1968-69] I don’t think we were second once,” she recalled. “We’d won so much that [Chef d’Equipe] Bert de Némethy came out to see me ride him. They wanted us both to go back east, and I was going to ride with Frances Rowe. Then we’d travel to Europe, not to be a member of the team, but to travel with them. I decided not to go. In those days it was really hard to do unless you had a great deal of money. Instead I decided to start my own business and got married.”
But Fleet Apple did go east. Bill Steinkraus took him to Europe, and eventually Kathy Kusner took over the ride, competing him in the 1972 Munich Olympic Games (West Germany). The horse eventually made his way back to California, having developed the annoying habit of stopping at the in-gate with the man who was riding him. Langer had just gone back to school, starting college, when she got the call inviting her to ride the horse again, and she left school for good to focus on her riding career.
“I remember meeting Jimmy Lee at the time and him saying to me, ‘You only need one horse when it’s the right horse,’ ” recalled Langer, who is now the U.S. young rider show jumping chef d’equipe. “That was a very impressionable moment. He was the first truly quality horse that I rode.”
A version of this story was first published on coth.com on March 11, 2015.