Since their seventh-place finish at the Longines FEI World Cup Finals (Sweden) in March, Callan Solem and VDL Wizard have been spending some quiet time at their home base in Chester Springs, Pa., getting ready to leave for Europe in a few weeks to fight their way from being named to the short list to a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.
Since we made it back to Pennsylvania, Wizard has been mostly been working on conditioning. It’s nice to have our hills back because it’s hard in Florida where everything is so flat. We have a beautiful field that’s attached to the farm that has nice flat spots for flatwork and some hills that we incorporate. That’s really great to do because you can get them stronger without a lot of pounding.
Wizard has been freshening up, and he loves working outside in that field. Sometimes he gets carried away and starts bucking and I just think “You’d better stop it because if you break my leg you’re in big trouble!”
Right now he usually goes for a ride in the morning and goes on the treadmill in the afternoon. He doesn’t really get turnout because of his propensity to jump out of the field, but he goes out for grass several times a day. As he gets closer to our shows we’ll extend the amount of work that he does, either going twice a day on the treadmill and riding once, or vice versa.
We don’t have an indoor, so we’re outside even if it’s raining unless it’s really cold. I have my rainpants out and he has his rain quarter sheet, which we’ve needed this week!
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:
Making A Plan
Our next horse shows are [the Rome CSIO] May 26-29, and [the Rotterdam CSIO (the Netherlands)] June 22-26. [Both shows serve as mandatory outings for riders short-listed for the Olympic Games.] Between the shows Wizard will go to VDL Stud, who has invited us to stay there.
We were very lucky that we had a lot of layover options, and because he’s already lived there from a mental and physical standpoint he’ll be very comfortable there, and he’ll already have antibodies from there, which I think of because he’s had immune issues before. Everyone at VDL is really great; they’re like family.
I will come home for one week after Rome to check in on things here, then go back. It’s nice having one horse at VDL so I can focus on him, and they’ll let me ride [some of their horses] a little bit and keep in good practice.
I’ve been to Rotterdam once before in 2005, so I’ve seen that venue. In the meantime I’ve been watching videos of Rome like it’s my job. I want to try to get as comfortable as I can be with that ring and that situation there.
All of these events coming up are incredibly important. The short list is only a short list. Once the final team is selected the five riders who will go to Rio will compete at [the Aachen CHIO (Germany)] then go to Rio. Rome and Rotterdam will decide whether we go on, and I will have him as ready as I can have him for those two shows. From there, if I have him in good form, it should mostly carry over to Aachen and Rio.
There’s an awful lot to plan, and a lot of this is uncharted territory for me. [USEF Managing Director of Show Jumping] Lizzy Chesson has been really helpful. I’m trying to make sure I have all the bases covered for Wizard to be as successful as he can be, down to orchestrating the grain, because they have different grain in Europe than we do. We have his acupuncture schedule and when he’s getting shod, and when the vet will come look at home and decide if he wants to give him fluids before he ships. I’m coordinating when I’ll jump school him with the weather and with when Peter Leone can come and help. Everyone has been amazing, but there’s very small room for error.
We have the best farrier, Mike Wharton, who has been critical to Wizard’s success. Wizard is his masterpiece, and I think Wizard would go on strike without him. He will fly over and shoe him, so we’ve been scheduling his flights.
Wizard’s groom Holly [Osman] will go over to Europe with Wizard on the 19th, so she’s been getting herself organized as well. We’ve all been trying to take an afternoon off here or there to get a little time to prepare for a big summer.
Peter Leone has been super helpful and very involved, and I’ve talked a lot to Candice King and Christine McCrea, who have been great. Chris, having done the Pan American Games, and Candice King, who was an alternate for the [2010 Alltech World Equestrian Games (Ky.)] have been through this before. It’s nice to be able to ask them all kinds of questions and not feel silly.
Getting Mentally And Physically Ready
I go to the gym almost every day when we’re home, not so much when we’re showing. I do a combination of cardio and weights to keep myself fit. I’ve also decided that any time I start to doubt myself I do 50 crunches. I figure I’ll either train myself not to have negative thoughts or end up with incredible abs!
In that vein I’ve been trying to find a time to meet with [sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella]. I’ve read most of the books that are out there about sports psychology, and I feel like I have a system that works for me well, but this is unchartered territory.
One of the pieces of advice you hear again and again from people who have been successful at this level is not to change anything too drastically; the program is how you got here so you have to stay with that. I’m always checking myself when I get a little excited: I don’t need to do 700 crunches when I’ve been doing 100.
In another interview someone asked me “Have you taken a moment to enjoy that this dream is coming true?” But it’s not over. The dream wasn’t to be on the short list or go to the Olympics. The goal is to be useful at the Olympics. I’m not interested in going and being the drop score. I will keep working, making sure that my Ts are crossed and my Is are dotted. I’m finding my way between trusting the system and making sure that I have the best versions of myself and of Wizard ready to compete.
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
Dressage rider Kasey Perry-Glass