In May of 2012, Ali Wolff was competing at the Kentucky Spring Classic when her new horse Casall arrived at the showgrounds.
“It was a Monday, and I was so excited to go see him,” Wolff said of the Holsteiner gelding (Casall—F-Cecilia BB, Capitol I). “I took him out for a hand walk, and I could start to feel that he was getting a little excited, and it was a little cold. I walked him up the hill towards the Stonelea Ring [at the Kentucky Horse Park], and then he saw a tractor in the distance and started trotting around me really fast and then stopping.
“I thought, ‘This is not a good idea,’ ” she continued. “I started walking him back, and then halfway down the hill he starts trotting sideways, and then he reverses—which he does very well—and just yanks the rope out of my hand and takes off. I’m looking at his back feet, and I just thought, ‘Oh my God. I just lost my new horse.’ ”
A bystander caught Casall, and Wolff, 31, brought him back to his stall. But the fun wasn’t over yet.
“I put him in the stall, and I’m freaking out because I think I just probably killed my new horse,” said Wolff, of Columbus, Ohio. “I get some liniment, and I went to rub his legs down, and he panicked. I think he thought he was in trouble, and he body checked me and kind of threw me into the stall and ran into the corner. So after that day I was like, ‘What did I just purchase?’ ”
Eight years and copious five-star competitions later, Casall, 15, is the top dog amongst Wolff’s current string, which includes the 13-year-old Bavarian gelding Quirie 2 and two younger prospects.
Most recently the pair won the $50,000 Purina Animal Nutrition Grand Prix on July 19 at the HITS Chicago Summer Series.
Get to know Casall, the horse Wolff never meant to keep.
• Casall is no longer a spring chicken, but he still requires special handling on occasion.
“He definitely has that little quirky side to him where you don’t really know what he’s going to do; that was more or less at the younger stage,” said Wolff. “He used to back up really fast and not go into wash racks. You have to know where you are around his head and everything. He’s since grown out of that a decent amount. He still has his quirks, but I think that’s also what makes him so unique and so great.”
• The not-so-for-sale horse
Casall was meant to be a sales horse when Wolff was starting her business, Ali Wolff LLC. “That didn’t go, obviously, as planned,” she said. “We brought him on board, and then we held him for a little bit because the horse that I had above him was getting older. We were like, ‘He’s 8 years old. Maybe we should hold on to him and see what he does in six months to a year,’ and then 8 ½, 9 is when he really peaked for the first time.”
Then they started getting attention from the U.S. team and decided to take it year by year. “We were like, ‘Well, let’s keep him for another year. He’s doing great for my development.’ He made a few more teams, and then here we are at 15,” Wolff said.
• The professor
“I could sell him, but for what I could probably get for him, it’s not worth it,” said Wolff. “At this point, he doesn’t really owe me anything. He’s just so great. The only thing I would love for him to do is just to be able to show some other kid or rider the ropes. I would love to share him a little bit. He would be a great family horse if I ever had kids, but I don’t feel like that’s in my next year’s future. So, for now, we’ll just keep him playing around, see what he wants to do. Maybe lease him out in a year or two. Hopefully in-house, because we just want to keep him.”
• A relationship built on trust
Casall is the type of horse that needs to have a relationship with his rider. “I don’t think anybody could catch ride him; he needs to trust you, and you trust him,” said Wolff. “Once you build that, he does everything for me. He takes wingers, and I can point out more pictures than not of the things I’ve asked him to do and that he’s done.
“I want to be a little protective in the sense that I know he will do absolutely anything for me, so in that regard, I do want to keep him happy and comfortable in his own element, and I never want to push him because he’s built so much on heart,” Wolff continued. “And yes, he has scope, but not as much as a lot of those other horses in the classes, so I want to keep him happy and comfortable.”
• Casall has an “ask questions later” approach to food.
He loves treats, and he really loves bananas. “He eats a whole banana and peel, and he’s also moved on to gummy bears,” said Wolff. “Donuts are a big thing for him, especially the powdered ones. He eats anything and everything. We were in FEI [stabling] the other day, and [groom Virginie Kaigle Lambert] was hand walking him, and he stole a French fry from a girl, just swiped it. So he eats French fries now. He kind of bites first, asks questions later. I don’t know if there’s anything he doesn’t like yet.
“It has to be a happy balance. I’ll work him maybe twice a week and take him on trail rides; he loves trails,” said Wolff. “He just gets so lazy and bored of the ring, and I really could get more done outside of the ring; he’s so much happier there, so I really just like to keep him outside as much as possible.
“I don’t jump him a lot,” Casall continued. “I might jump him around a 1.10-meter course just to get that muscle memory, and then I might do a little gymnastics on Sunday, but he really doesn’t need much. He’s so careful, and I don’t ever want to overface him. I just jump to remind him to lift his feet.”