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!