Leah Lang-Gluscic
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Leah Lang-Gluscic

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Making the Tough Decision

Leah Lang-Gluscic and AP Prime. Photo by Kasey Mueller. Leah Lang-Gluscic and AP Prime. Photo by Kasey Mueller.

Every fiber of my being wants to be a four-star rider. Let’s start with that.

While I consider the entire four years with AP to be my prep to Rolex, I could never have imagined how intense the three months before that huge weekend in April would be. The amount of focus, attention to detail, and commitment to your program necessary during that time starts to look a lot like a pretty severe personality disorder.

Your day to day activities start to carry so much weight, and you lose sight of any reasonable perspective in this world. With this comes very intense reactions, good and bad, to anything and everyone around you, a very intense emotional rollercoaster. Combine all of this with the fact that a very large part of my identity is wrapped up in my being an eventer, and you can get a sense of the intensity involved in prepping for Rolex.

I love this silly face!

I love this silly face!

My prep became all the more stressful when AP took a tumble, unrelated to a fence, in the show jumping at the Fork. It then became a waiting game to see if he would be 100% for the biggest test of our careers. As my vet began checking him over at the Fork, I promised myself that if there was any increased chance of injury, I would make the decision in the best interest of my horse.

Fortunately, AP looked great in the weeks following the Fork, and I got the 100% sign off to go ahead as planned, always intending to do one last check before cross country at Rolex.  As I stood in the treating stall with AP and my vet, I felt confident and hopeful. I felt like my horse and I were exactly where we should be, ready to tackle the task ahead.

As my vet read the ultrasound, I knew she was about to tell me something I did not want to hear. AP’s leg look slightly more inflamed than it had the week prior, and she could no longer tell me he was at status quo. I was facing the first really tough decision of my eventing career.

My vet began telling me the pros and cons of running the next day, but it was completely unnecessary. In that moment, I learned something about myself: I would never sacrifice the wellbeing of my horse for my own personal goals, validation, or livelihood.

While the decision was devastating, I can take away this little piece of information about myself. Completing Rolex would have changed my life in more ways that I can list, all for the better. If I can make the tough call in that moment, I know I can make it anytime.

It has taken weeks to have a full appreciation of this silver lining. At Rolex, I held myself together in the barns, not until I got back to my hotel and knocked on my parents’ door did I fall apart. The weight and significance of my decision came down on me at once.

Photo courtesy of Tom Neuman.

AP tolerating his fancy circles. He was very upset not to run cross country! Photo courtesy of Tom Neuman.

While I knew I was doing the right thing, it was not an easy pill to swallow. Throughout the rest of the weekend, there were certain people that triggered tears, and I was so worried about the disappointment that my sponsors and AP’s fans would feel. Much to my delight and surprise, I received nothing short of an outpouring of support for my horsemanship, something that speaks to the amazing people that are the sport of eventing!

Saturday night, my mom asked me, “What would you have done if AP had an owner and they wanted you to run regardless of the ultrasound?” I told her I would under no circumstance run a horse that wasn’t 100%. As hard as it is to get owners and as much as I wouldn’t want to lose one, I knew in that moment, I would still make that call.

First of all, no one puts more pressure and expectations on me than me — to a fault — so no one could have made me want my first four-star more in that moment. It’s just not possible. I also know that if I continue to make these decisions that show the utmost respect and love for my horse, I will attract owners that will back me up in these tough moments.

Hopefully I can build a program where everyone involved with LLG Eventing can not only enjoy the immense highs of coming through the finish flags at a world class event, but also sleep at night when the tough decisions need to be made and enjoy the long, successful careers of their horses.

Weeks later, it’s still tough. I really thought that, at this point in time, I would be a four-star rider. Dealing with that unfulfilled piece of me just plain sucks, there’s no getting around it. However, having a happy horse that will be on track to run Fair Hill this fall certainly helps, and I have that much more fuel to the fire to get us to Rolex next year hungrier than ever!

Oh the Drama: AP Attempts to Sabotage His First Dressage Show

AP being a good boy for his fancy circles! AP being a good boy for his fancy circles!

So, as most of you know, AP and I had plans of grandeur to attend our first dressage show this past weekend.  We were signed up to do Third Level Test 1 and Fourth Level Test 1, Friday through Sunday, a perfect opportunity to work through our issues with tension. Unfortunately and not surprisingly, things rarely go to plan.

We arrived at the horse show early Thursday afternoon to have a lesson. AP loves to roll in fresh shavings, so when I put him in his stall of knee high bedding, he did his ritualistic, enthusiastic roll.

He just happened to let his right front hoof hit the upper inside front left leg and it caused a slight laceration. He was of course fine right away, and we went and had a great lesson. Three hours later, his leg was swelling and AP, being the biggest baby of all time (my vet could tell you some ridiculous stories), was walking lame.  Very frustrated, I packed up and made the drive two hours home.

Within two hours of turnout and moving around, AP was already significantly sounder and less pouty, but I had resigned to the fact that due to the swelling and his dramatics, we wouldn’t be getting our desperately needed time in the fancy circles ring.  Two days of dressage show passed while AP sat at home and I got the young ones ridden.

However, the dressage gods must have shifted their favor, because on Sunday morning AP came in with the actual shape of a leg and 100% sound.  We loaded up and made our way back to Silverwood, much to AP’s shock and confusion when I opened the trailer door.

AP's reward and our happy place

AP’s reward and our happy place

I am so thankful that things worked out to have at least one day of showing. My trainer, Kathryn Barry, immediately noticed that my elbows tense up at the show more than at home, and our entire warm up was focused on suppling and relaxing AP and making me conscientious about my own tension and nerves. When you don’t feel nerves mentally, it can be very difficult to pinpoint the physical manifestations.

The results really reflected how beneficial the experience was. Our first test was the Fourth Level 1, and we scored a 58 with an error. We then went back to the warm up, had a discussion of how I needed to ride things differently, and AP went back in the ring and scored a 64.3 in the Third Level 1, a score that would convert to an FEI score of 53.6!

That would be a huge improvement, and there are still so many points to shave off from that test.  Most importantly, when I was more supple in my elbows, AP was workmanlike, obedient, and steady.

As a reward, AP and I stopped at the Barrington Riding Center on our way home to get in a quick cross country school before Richland. We just popped up and down a bank, across a ditch, dropped into the water, and jumped a few technical questions.

With all the work, and sometimes drama, that goes into developing such an incredible animal, you do sometimes take your situation for granted and get lost in your system and program along with all the long hours and focus that are required. However, as I was sitting on this horse, walking out to do the thing that he loves more than anything after he just tried his very hardest to be excellent for the thing he is not so crazy about, I had a full appreciation for my partner and friend.

I felt so privileged to be the person on his back and such a sense of gratitude to be a part of his journey.  It just felt like being home, and it’s really these moments, amongst all the craziness associated with maintaining an elite athlete, that make me love this sport.  Go eventing!  And, dressage too I suppose.

 

Loving Dressage and Hopefully Showing it

AP, in his FLAIR Strip, all to excited to go galloping, a break from his dressage boot camp! AP, in his FLAIR Strip, all to excited to go galloping, a break from his dressage boot camp!

After reading the Grounded Eventer’s post about her love for dressage, I couldn’t help sharing about my upcoming weekend.  AP and I are going to a real dressage show, three days, two tests a day, and not a cross country jump in sight.  I made the decision that we would be doing lots of dressage boot camp and shows as we were having a meltdown circling the arena at Bromont.

This past winter in Florida, I was working extensively with Peter Gray and Jon Holling, both of which helped me improve my flatwork by leaps and bounds.  In one dressage lesson, Jon told me that AP should be scoring high 40s but at worst mid 50s in FEI competition, no excuses.

Peter expressed similar expectations when he told me that my practice test the week prior to Bromont would put me in the top 20%.  Since the movements were relatively new to AP, in particular the changes and half-pass, my focus was getting him the runs he needed for his cross county education with Rolex in mind for next year.  I thought that with more time and confirmation of the movements, the scores would come.

Bromont most definitely told me otherwise.  I had a week of incredible rides leading up to AP’s dressage test, and my warm up before going into the ring felt wonderful.  We walked into the arena and started circling the ring, and everything just fell apart.

I still am not sure how I got us through that test with a qualifying score.  The next hour or so after my test was incredibly nerve-wracking.  Had I just driven 19 hours total to not even get the dressage score I need for a Rolex qualifier?  And if I had, should I even use his legs and finish the competition?

Luckily, and likely due to the compassion and understanding of the judges, that wasn’t the case.  But in that hour, I decided that we were going to do something about this.

I went home to Illinois, and after AP’s five week vacation, we started taking dressage lessons every four to five days with my longtime trainer, Kathryn Barry.  This very much piggy-backed off of my program with Peter and Jon and Florida, and the progress has been significant.

The positioning in our half-passes is becoming more solid all the time and rather than getting two or three clean changes a ride, I maybe have two that aren’t.  With the work at home being up to par, we are now off to a proper dressage show to get a handle on the nerves and exuberance.

I’m hoping that with six tests in three days, we can finally start to address this and produce a good test next weekend for the CIC3* at Richland. My horse is going to be so disappointed when I walk into his stall with my dressage saddle on the second day of competition, but here’s to possibly, and finally, showing everyone the type of dressage horse that AP is capable of being!

Baby Horse Parade at Roebke’s Run

My student, Heather, and I after two great cross country rounds on young horses. My student, Heather, and I after two great cross country rounds on young horses.

Well it’s been a while since Bromont, and I’ve meant to blog several times.  However, having what could easily be considered a parade of young horses to get back to, I’m not sure where all the time has gone.  In the last six weeks, I have had three four year olds, two five year olds, a six year old, and a green nine year old to work with, so needless to say I’ve been busy!

Last weekend, I took three of the youngsters up to Roebke’s Run for my first time, and I was beyond impressed.  There’s a handful of events in Area IV that really go above and beyond – constantly changing their courses, keeping everything manicured beautifully, trying to impress and retain competitors with great prizes, and creating atmosphere.  It is safe to say, Roebke’s has cemented their place among these gems of Area IV.

I had one horse in the Training division, and two in the Beginner Novice.  While the courses were big and technical, all three of the youngsters really enjoyed the tracks and came off their runs feeling confident and more educated.

Show jumping was quite large for all the levels, but again my horses had some of their best rounds to date.  I’m always thrilled when my horses come away from a show better for having been there.  However, I was most impressed with everyone working to make the event as competitor friendly as possible at all times, just a few examples come to mind.

1) The morning of dressage, it monsooned and the dressage rings got pretty slick.  The large ring had minimal use and had held up better as a result.  When the small ring I had been competing had deteriorated, everyone rallied to get the large ring converted and did so without and significant time delays.

The next class of horses had a much better go all because the volunteers and people running the event were willing to be flexible and bust their butts for a few minutes to improve the competitor experience.

2) In regards to footing, the path from stabling to jumping got chewed up pretty quickly with all the rain.  Almost immediately, there was a vehicle filled with gravel and a bunch of hard working people making sure this path would hold up.  Let me reiterate, this is not a competition or even warm up surface, this was just where we walked to get from one place to another!

3) I had a ton of horses competing close together, three in two divisions of Beginner Novice between me and my student.  Nancy as always did an incredible job with scheduling to make sure I could get everything done.  When things did get a little tight, all of the ring stewards were accommodating and cross country even had a second sound system in warm up to keep everyone running on time and informed.

While everything was beautiful on the facility, my biggest takeaway was that I felt like an appreciated customer.  The organizers at Roebke’s Run recognize that they are offering a service and did everything plus some to make sure I would want to be a repeat client, which I will most certainly be.  If the experience wasn’t enough, I won $75 off my next entry with my six year old winning the Training Horse division which is plenty to entice me!

It’s Been a While

Leah Lang-Gluscic and AP Prime. Photo by David Mullinix Photography. Leah Lang-Gluscic and AP Prime. Photo by David Mullinix Photography.

Well hello again, Eventing Nation! It has been ages since I last blogged on here, and I’m thrilled to be back. If I recall correctly, the last post I did included a picture of AP standing in my indoor just a month off the track. Now, we are heading to Bromont for our first CCI***!

For those of you who know a bit about AP and me, you know the dressage has been a tough phase. The work at home is quality, but in the competition ring, it has been difficult to find that elusive relaxation stage of the training pyramid. If we do find it, the impulsion piece is always just out of reach. With that in mind, I planned my trip to Bromont with a two day layover in Mono, Ontario, so I could have daily dressage lessons with Peter Gray, who I worked with in Florida this winter.

Peter not only helps me get incredible quality of gaits from AP, but no one is more particular about the truly correct riding of movements, planning within your test, and of what the judges really want to see. The first day, AP felt a little bit tired from the 13 hours on the trailer the day before, but today he did some of his best work, feeling connected, light, and rideable! If we are able to recreate that for the judges this week, we may finally be as competitive as we should be in our first phase!

The gorgeous Ghostwood Farm!

The gorgeous Ghostwood Farm!

While in Ontario, I have had the immense pleasure of keeping AP at Ghostwood Farm, run by Momo Laframboise. The facility is nothing short of stunning. Further, even though AP is here without any of his usual friends, he is so happy! He can be a little bit high maintenance when we travel to new places, but he has settled in beautifully. Between hacking on the gorgeous rolling hills, his all day long turnout, and just the general “horse heaven” vibe of the facility, I have a shockingly settled and content horse!

We leave first thing tomorrow morning to arrive at Bromont for in-barns. I know AP will be sad to leave his vacation spot, but I think he will forgive me when he gets to run and jump this weekend! Keep an eye out for upcoming posts from Bromont!