A rider who went looking in a backside barn for the proverbial ‘needle in a haystack’ and pulled out pure, show horse gold has returned twice to find off-the-track Thoroughbreds capable of following in the very large footsteps of a $750 horse turned four-star mount.

Eventer Leah Lang-Gluscic, 31, makes no secret of the fact that her professional riding career was “absolutely made” by the gorgeous bay ex-racehorse, AP Prime. Before paying cash for the gelding seven years ago in a transaction with Illinois Thoroughbred adoption agency CANTER, Lang-Gluscic was an unemployed investment banker who’d quit her job in the hopes of becoming a pro rider.

Five years later, she was swinging into the irons at the Rolex Kentucky CCI4* astride an OTTB who’d given her a magic carpet ride to the top. In the time since her Rolex runs in 2015 and 2016, when she finished 33rd, Lang-Gluscic has kept an eye out for “the next AP.” And recently, she returned to CANTER Illinois to adopt two more promising equine athletes to add to her string. With both horses, Leah went with her gut instinct.

“When I looked at them walking out of their stalls, my first reaction with both was, ‘Oh my God, that horse has to be in my barn!’ I look for conformational traits and other details that tell me they’re going to be more successful for certain jobs. But, in the end, it’s a gut feeling,” she says. “It’s very rare to find horses like AP Prime, and I could be totally wrong. And a million things could also go wrong. But the raw pieces I’m working with in my two new horses is incredibly promising.”

Those prospects are the 9-year-old geldingThe Duck of Reed, a seasoned campaigner who ran 64 times before she snapped him up, and the plain bay 5-year-old Mightylee, a perfectly mannered gent with freak-of-nature athleticism.

First to arrive in her barn last September was The Duck of Reed. After running his last race three days beforehand, he was vetted for Lang-Gluscic and snapped up. The 16.2-hand liver chestnut is both beautiful and talented; less than a year after leaving the track, the bold horse is already going Training Level.

Mightylee who was bred, raised, and raced by the same family, was purchased in February. Listed by CANTER Illinois for six weeks with no takers, Lang-Gluscic took a chance after showing a consultant a video of the horses. “My body-work person looked at the video for me and said Mightylee had the most flexible hip she’d ever seen,” she says, noting that after adopting the incredibly polite horse last February, she quickly discovered the OTTB had hidden talents.

“The second day I jumped him, I took him over a 2’5″ oxer. He was another two-and-a-half feet over it, and did it in perfect form. He’s a freak of nature, and one of the most athletic horses I’ve ever sat on.” At his first show earlier this summer, Mightylee showed real promise over the jumps, and took home a 7th place ribbon, despite a tense dressage test.

As AP Prime rests up following a recent tendon strain, Lang-Gluscic is happily carving a niche for herself in the sport horse world cracked open to her by a scrappy Thoroughbred. “There’s no question that AP Prime absolutely made my career. I had quit my job in banking three months before I found him at CANTER-Illinois,” she says. “Getting to Rolex was a dream come true. It no longer felt like I was competing on a $750 throwaway. I felt I was competing at Rolex on a world-class animal.”

Now, look out world: Lang-Gluscic has two more OTTBs on the rise. And she wouldn’t have it any other way. “If I won the lottery tomorrow, I might go horse shopping for very expensive horses,” she says. “But, I’d have to insist that the horse be 90 percent Thoroughbred.”

-Photo credits: Susan Marie Horner & Amber Prasopoulos.