You’d be hard pressed to find a rider who knows her top grand prix horse better than Callan Solem. She’s traveled the world competing with VDL Wizard for the past eight years, nursing him back from multiple injuries and illnesses and riding him on teams representing the United States in international competition.
“I wouldn’t be who I am or the rider I am without this horse,” Solem said.
Solem first met the now 15-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Gentleman—Pretty, Ahorn) as a 7-year-old at the VDL Stud in the Netherlands. Solem picked him out for owner Virginia McNeil, who wanted to sponsor a young horse Solem could develop to the top of the sport.
But two days after coming out of quarantine Stateside he colicked and underwent surgery. After taking the better part of the year to recover, Solem did begin showing Wizard, but she still didn’t think he was feeling quite right. It took quite a few consultations with different veterinarians and specialists before they treated Wizard for Potomac Horse Fever and EPM.
So it wasn’t until Wizard was a 10-year-old that he and Solem really got their show on the road. The pair quickly made up for lost time, and in 2016 Solem and Wizard made their Longines FEI World Cup Final debut together in Gothenburg, Sweden, and were the highest-placed American pair finishing seventh.
After a successful 2017 with top placings in some big grand prix classes, Wizard kicked off 2018 with a win in the $50,000 HITS Grand Prix in Ocala, Florida.
We went behind the stall door with Wizard, Solem and the gelding’s caretaker Holly Osman to learn all about Solem’s special partner.
“I’m so grateful for him,” Solem said. “And whether it’s horses or your husband or wife or friends, any relationship that’s going to last that long takes a lot of work on both parts and survives a lot of evolution. He’s certainly not the same horse he was eight years ago, and I’m not the same rider I was eight years ago. For us to get to go through those eight years together and learn from each other about what works and what doesn’t work has been really special.”
• “When he whinnies at the in-gate that’s his sign that he’s ready to win,” said Solem. “It’s basically just hand me his ribbon at that point.”
But beware of the fiery chestnut when he comes back out of the ring.
“He is wild after the class; you have to wrestle him home,” said Osman, who has cared for Wizard for the past four years. “Normally I’m the only one who does it, but sometimes our barn manager will take him back if I have a second horse, and she’s shocked. She said, ‘I almost couldn’t hold on to him! He’s spinning with his tail up, and you’re just screaming at people to get out of the way. We can’t stop!’ ”
Osman has started putting a red ribbon in Wizard’s tail, not because he kicks out at other horses but just as a warning for others to keep their distance from his acrobatic performances.
• The image of a wild Wizard dancing all the way back to the barn is sharply contrasted by the very pleasant creature standing quiet as a church mouse to have his picture taken for his Behind The Stall Door feature.
“He’s usually like this, just sweet,” said Osman. “He’s really the nicest horse to take care of as far as behavior. He loves people, he loves fans, he likes meeting people—just maybe not right after the class.”
• A lot of Wizard’s care revolves around his EPM diagnosis—the disease lowers a horse’s immune system, so Osman takes extra care to limit his potential exposure to any illness.
“He gets a rotation of different immune supports, and we spray the stalls down at shows,” Osman said. “And we bring our own hay, and the last time we flew we even brought our own water, and we always bring a portable water filter everywhere we go that attaches to the spigot. I get made fun of a lot for that. It’s a bit ridiculous, but because of it I can drink the water too!”
• While Wizard enjoys all the massages, chiropractic adjustments and magnetic therapy modern technology has to offer (he uses the Respond magnetic footboard and blankets), there is nothing he likes more than a soak in a good old fashioned muck tub of ice water.
“Ice is his thing; sometimes he doesn’t even want to step out the tub,” Osman said. “I can’t even tell you how much time I’ve spent icing this horse. At World Cup Finals I iced him every three hours. I just fluff some hay up in front of the tub, and he’ll stand there as long as you want.”
• Wizard is the most beautiful horse in the world, don’t even suggest he’s not, but like any super model he has some unique features.
“He’s pigeon-toed up front and toes out behind,” Osman said with a laugh.
• Regardless of what direction they’re pointing, Wizard’s feet are also very sensitive, so he gets special shoes up front courtesy of farrier Mike Wharton.
“The farrier I think actually designed them himself for him,” Osman said. “It’s technically a bar shoe, but it’s made with leather and a pour-in pad. Without Mike this horse wouldn’t be where he is. He’s on a 21-day shoe cycle. Mike is key for him.”
• Due to his bout with colic and various illnesses Solem and Osman try to keep Wizard’s food as easy to digest as possible.
“He gets grain twice a day. It’s senior grain, and we soak it so it’s like soup,” Osman said. “And he gets hay four times a day, no alfalfa just grass or timothy.”
• Osman and Solem try to turn Wizard out, but he’s not a big fan.
“He used to just run and jump out of normal paddocks,” Osman said with a laugh. “We have medicine paddocks here, so he can go out in one of those, and I’ll sit out there with him, and he can stay out as long as he wants, but he really prefers to be hand grazed. I probably hand graze him for an hour and a half every day.”
• Wizard either goes by his proper magical name or by Cat.
“It’s really random! We just didn’t want it to become Wiz,” Osman said with a laugh. “So it’s Cat or Kitty.”
• As far as treats go, Wizard is an equal opportunity consumer of snacks.
“He loves everything, really everything,” Osman said. “He’ll eat pizza, any sort of fruit—he gets bananas a lot, and once I got him kumquats, and he liked those too.”
• For all of his quirks with diet, hoof care and show ring antics Wizard is still a favorite of Osman’s to care for in the barn.
“He’s perfect, he really is,” Osman said. “Everyone loves him.”