When I went to WIHS with the Eq Team back in whatever month, I saw Callan Solem for the first time in the President's Cup. Immediately, I was impressed by her style. She pulled two clear rounds, and was sooo close to the win, but the Smolder got it at the last minute. It goes without saying that she is one of my favorites, and I may or may not have cried (hint: I cried) when she agreed to do an interview.
Callan began riding after doing one of those horseback riding things on the beach while on vacation. Her mother rode as a kid and while in college. At some point, the group split into two: one for riders who would be able to canter and one for the less experienced. When her mother went with the more experienced group, young Callan was "grossly offended", as any child would have been. She began taking lessons soon after, and she hasn't stopped riding since.
Callan said that she wanted to be a professional rider as long as she can remember. As soon as she understood what being a professional meant, it became a goal. I asked if there was anything that shocked her about the professional circuit, and she replied, "Daily." The biggest shock was the workload. At 17, the summer after graduating from high school, she became a working student for Carol Thompson. Living on site, she learned that there was always something to do, but she desired to grow as a horsewoman. She worked for Carol for 15 years. It required a lot of effort and a lot of "Yes, ma'am"s.
My biggest inquiry had to do with the stress that comes with riding on the upper level. Callan said that she created a system and environment where pressure brought the best out of her. Some research in sports psychology also helps her stay focused and in control of her mentality. Callan says that the amount of effort you put in links to stress management as well. If you've already taught yourself to put in 110% every day, going to a new situation where you have to put in that same amount of effort will not be nearly as stressful. It's just another day of putting in 110%.
In our time speaking to each other, Callan told me two hilarious stories, the second of which I have to share. Carol's husband was with the racing industry, and so he would bring young thoroughbreds back to the farm on occasion. Carol inquired whether Callan had ever broken in a horse baby horse, and, as I said earlier, there were a lot of "Yes, ma'am"s. Callan, who had never broken a baby horse, took a trip to the bookstore and bought a book on how to break horses. She backed them the next day and recalls that they were the easiest, sweetest young horses. To be honest, this sounds exactly like something I would do.
What's the moral of the story? Callan says that young people today aren't taking the kinds of risks that will help them advance. Of course, that doesn't mean you should find the nearest OTTB and back it ASAP, but we can't always stick to what's easier. We have to step out of our comfort zone and do the things that no one else wants to do in order to be the best that we can be.
Callan Solem // Facebook