My trip to Ocala was nothing if not full of firsts. It was truly the trip of a lifetime and I came home with plenty of homework and memories to last me a lifetime. I had the privilege of taking a spin on Ballynoe Castle RM over at Buck Davidson’s, and a conversation over a bottle of wine led to another opportunity to ride a top level horse: Leah Lang-Gluscic’s AP Prime.
I headed over to Leah’s Ocala base one afternoon after she expressed a need for a videographer to take some footage of a sales horse. Happy to oblige, I shot some video and Leah offered me a glass of wine to show her appreciation. As we sat on her porch taking in the views, the conversation turned to Buck and Reggie.
“So how did that even come about?” Leah asked. I happily relived the tale, smiling at the thought of that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Leah grinned at me and told me that I should come and hop aboard AP Prime next time I was over. I couldn’t quite believe my luck — if all the stars align, I might be able to say I rode not one, but two horses heading down centerline at Rolex this year!
The next week, I once again headed to Leah’s, feeling those familiar jitters at the prospect of sitting astride a horse way above my talent level. Once again, the thoughts entered my head of what could go wrong (everything) and the ways I could screw up (there were a lot).
I tried to push those thoughts from my head, though, as Leah began tacking AP up for our little jaunt. Let me just start by saying, I am a huge fan of smaller horses. Not tiny, per se, but 16 hands or so. Nothing large — I like to feel like I’m riding a sports car.
If you were to describe AP Prime in a word, “small” would not be it. The OTTB gelding is about 16.2 on a short day and every bit as muscular as the human equivalent of his athletic level. Definitely not the small, in your pocket type that I am used to.
AP eyed me cautiously, wondering what hell I was about to put him through. I laughed and reassured him that this would probably be the easiest ride he would ever have to endure.
I got on and set off around the arena with Leah watching. As I set off to do some flatwork, I focused on keeping my position as strong as possible and letting AP show me exactly how he likes to be ridden. On the flat, he’s once again a great example of a well trained horse. A whisper of a leg and he is bent around it, a soft wiggle on the inside rein and he’s on the bit. Riding horses such as this is a great learning experience and example of where you eventually want your horse to be.
I loped around the arena a bit before Leah told me to go and jump the small course she had set up. I gulped to myself, knowing that this would definitely be a different ride than what I am accustomed to.
And it undoubtedly was. Poor AP didn’t know what was coming — I think I missed every distance the first time through because I was too nervous and momentarily forgot that a horse like this could jump a two-foot course in his sleep and that I was just hindering him by trying to manage things too much.
After I choked out an apology and convinced myself I had broken AP because he cross-cantered after a fence, Leah told me to try again but to trust him and let him find his own distances when I could.
So I did, and the result was worlds better than the first. Granted, the horse still jumped me out of the tack (at two-foot — pretty impressive), but I felt much more confident by the time we had gone through again and couldn’t keep the grin off my face.
Leah had many proud mom moments while I was riding — I feel like it’s a sign of a truly great horse when he can successfully and quietly pack around an amateur. Granted, not all great horses are suitable for just anyone to ride, but it’s always a plus when you know you can safely let someone else ride your upper level horse.
After our ride, Leah told me to take AP for a hack around the farm. As he strode off confidently and looking for his next job, I took everything in. It was one of my last days in Ocala, and the experience had truly come full circle.
At the end of the day, it’s not about what “cool” things you get to do. It’s about what you learn and take home with you. From this trip, I took home inspiration — from riding both Reggie and AP I realized that having a horse that well-trained is not so impossible. I realized that even “people like me” can dream big, that we all started somewhere. I learned that eventers truly want to see their peers succeed. And those are the most important parts of this trip that I will keep with me as I continue to work towards my own goals.
I’d like to extend my thanks to Leah for entrusting me with her special horse and to each and every person who I came in contact with while in Florida. It truly is a trip of a lifetime, and the lessons learned will be valuable for a long time to come.