Callan Solem Is Handling The Unexpected On Her Road To The Olympics

Jun 7, 2016 - 8:14 AM
The Rome Nations Cup was a learning experience in spades for Callan Solem and VDL Wizard. Photo by Bob Langrish

Callan Solem and VDL Wizard completed their first observation event at the Rome CSIO last week, where Solem jumped to 8 faults in Round 1 of the Nations Cup and 4 in Round 2. The U.S. team finished in a tie for second overall. 

We didn’t have the result I was hoping for in Rome. There were a few things that didn’t go to plan, and we had to make some decisions that were in Wizard’s best interest, but that didn’t help the results in the ring. That’s sports, and that’s horses. 

I flew directly to Rome and met Wizard there. Our travel people—Beacon Hill does ground transport here, Gelissen Horse Transport does the ground transportation in Europe and The Dutta Corporation does the flights—are amazing, really top of the industry. Besides being competent they’re just really nice people. 

Wizard had a long trip to get to Rome—it’s really far away! He left the farm on May 18 and slept at JFK Airport to fly out early the next day. He laid over in Belgium at Roger Gelissen’s amazing farm for a few days, then laid over in Austria at another beautiful place, then he arrived in Rome on Monday afternoon [of the May 25-29 show].

Wizard doesn’t always drink really well when he travels. We’d given him fluids before he left to help combat this. On Tuesday afternoon I worked him twice lightly, and we noticed that he hadn’t had any manure between 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. He wasn’t acting sick or in distress, but pinching his skin you could tell he was dehydrated. We wanted to stay ahead of any health problems so we decided to give him more fluids.

I’m very careful about his health because he’s had colic surgery and health problems before.

Though the team vet did everything right, it turns out there was a hole in the top of the catheter, so some of the fluids ended up entering his body subcutaneously, going under the skin of his neck and chest rather than in his vein.

The team vet and Janus Marquis, the team physio, did everything they could to help him reabsorb the fluids and remedy the situation for him. They did a fantastic job, and he was fine to jump in the Nations Cup on Friday, and once he was in one place for a little while he started drinking better.

But I worried he was uncomfortable during the week, and I didn’t work him as hard on Wednesday or Thursday [in Rome]. He was a kitten for the work I did do with him, but on Friday, as soon as he got his show tack on and his Team USA cooler, he turned into a tiger.

Too Much Horse

I realized I had way too much horse in the schooling area before the first round. He was bucking a lot, which he can do anyway, but this was really extensive. If he were that fresh at home and not for the feature event I would have been sitting chilly. I felt like I had to be more involved to fix it because it was an important event.

In the first round he was very reactive to my reins and my legs, and I didn’t do a good enough job keeping it smooth so we could get to the places he likes to be in front of the jumps. He had 8 faults in Round 1, but he jumped it really well, and 4 faults in Round 2. It’s my fault; I didn’t have him properly prepared. It’s not a mistake I intend to duplicate.

Watch our Round 2 trip:

The good news is that he’s totally healthy and happy—and I definitely got him plenty fit enough! Looking back I think that we may not have shown for two months, but we could have gone back and done another round in the Nations Cup. Also, I’ve found a product that should solve the problem for next time, TurboMag, which is an electrolyte made by Equivision that’s meant to hold fluid in the gut. 

Wizard and his groom Holly [Osman] traveled to VDL Stud for the week, and I came home to Chester Springs, Pa., to ride and practice as much as I can. I go back on Monday, and we’ll go to Rotterdam [CSIO (the Netherlands), the next observation event on June 23-26] in a few weeks.

I’m disappointed in my result, but it was completely my responsibility and no one else’s. It was my job to have the horse at the right energy level, and I got it wrong. I wanted to make sure I had enough horse and he was feeling his best, and I erred on the side of too much horse, and I hadn’t dealt with that before.

He did a good job. Eight faults in the first round and 4 in the second wasn’t a good day for us, but that said it certainly wasn’t an absolute tragedy either. I’m not saying my riding in the first round goes on a personal highlight reel either.

In defense of the horse, it’s important to me that no one thinks that was our best shot. It definitely wasn’t. I take responsibility for that. Even though it was a kick in the pants in general, I have to get stronger as a result of last week.


VDL Wizard feeling fresh and bold during the Rome Nations Cup. Photo by Bob Langrish

Feeling The Love

I was listening to NPR one day after the tragedy in Paris, and there was an interview with Mr. Rogers from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. He was talking about when he was a kid he’d always get scared when there was an ambulance or fire trucks, and his mother told him, “No, look at how many people are helping.” That changed his mind and made a big difference to him. I think about all the people who are trying to help us, and it’s really overwhelming. 

I have to say a big thank you to the USET Foundation, which makes all of this possible. It’s a really expensive endeavor, and without the funding we wouldn’t be able to use the best companies like Gelissen and Dutta Corporation, the best team vets, the best support team in the office making hotel reservations, arranging shuttles, getting passport information to the right people. It’s a huge logistical undertaking, and we couldn’t do it without the funding.


At the ring with Wizard and his groom, Holly Osman.

The funding that we receive from the USET Foundation is a result of donations from amazing people who support this sport, whether it’s with $5 or $5,000, and all of those people deserve not only our thanks but a reminder that the medal that the U.S. team is sure to win in Rio is also theirs. To everyone who has made a donation, I am so grateful, and know that you helped make it a better experience for the horses and the team. 

So many people came to support me. [Wizard’s owners Collin and Virginia McNeil] were there and so were my mother [Kay Hooper] and Tracy Blumberg, who owned part of Mianta [Solem’s ex-grand prix horse] and [trainer] Peter Leone. The McNeils in particular couldn’t have been more supportive.

I was disappointed that we didn’t do the best we’re capable of, and they couldn’t have been nicer. I’m my own toughest critic, and I think the people closest to me know that, and it’s really nice to feel like you have people in your corner.

About Callan Solem And VDL Wizard

Home Base: Callan Solem Show Stables in Chester Springs, Pa.

“Wizard’s” stats: 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Gentleman—Pretty, Ahorn)

Wizard’s owners: Collin and Virginia McNeil

Big performances in 2015 and 2016:
7th—Longines FEI World Cup Finals (France), March 2016
2nd—Washington International CSI-W (D.C.), Oct. 2015
2nd—Pennsylvania Big Jump, Oct. 2015
6th—Team Falsterbo CSIO Nations Cup (Sweden), July 2015
1st—Team Coapexpan CSIO Nations Cup (Mexico), April 2015
3rd—Great American $1 Million Grand Prix (Fla.), March 2015
1st—HITS Grand Prix (Fla.), Jan. 2015

On Friday night when I was feeling disappointed with myself after the Nations Cup, I went back to the hotel room and checked Facebook and there were so many people checking in, and I appreciate that so much. It’s an honor to have the support of so many people, and it’s not something I take lightly. 

There’s a huge team of sponsors who all are on this journey alongside me and Wizard: Antares is building a new saddle for Wizard; EquiFit sent new T-boots; MDC sent new stirrups; Arenus sent supplements that keep him in great shape; R.J. Classics sent me new pairs of white breeches; The Balancing Tonic sent their product that helps promote overall wellbeing; the Tack Shelter, who owns part of VDL Torlando, called the week before we left to ask what we need; Tredstep has been emailing to wish us luck.

One thing I can guarantee is that it will never be my first time on the A-team again. It was a daunting exercise to be on the team with McLain [Ward], Kent [Farrington], Beezie [Madden] and Laura [Kraut], but they were incredibly nice and supportive, and you learn just being in their presence.

To be on a team of our most experienced riders who have all been on multiple championship teams and find my place within that group was a really good experience.

In this series, the Chronicle follows six riders as they seek to fulfill their Olympic dreams in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. We’ll check in with them every few weeks as they pursue a team spot, seeing how they’re getting their horses ready and preparing mentally. You can learn more about Solem and VDL Wizard’s challenge-filled path to the top of the sport in our One To Watch article about her

Read all of the Road To The Olympics with Callan Solem

We’re also following:

Eventer Phillip Dutton and his groom Emma Ford

Show jumper McLain Ward

Dressage rider Kasey Perry-Glass

Eventer Clark Montgomery

Dressage rider Laura Graves

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