EQ Life Masthead - 2019
live TV (up)
EQ Life virtual competition
CMH.TV advert (V2)
EQ Life Magazine
12 month subscription
When the time comes to reset and ride on

Calla Wahlquist is enjoying having horses back in her life. © Calla Wahlquist

Calla Wahlquist is enjoying having horses back in her life.

© Calla Wahlquist

When the time comes to reset and ride on

By Equestrian Life

Although Calla Wahlquist spent nearly 10 years out of the saddle, she never stopped loving horses. Now partnered with Racing Victoria RESET Program horse Mickey “the middle-aged accountant” and his “sidecar” Rev, her equestrian journey continues.

It’s a common narrative; you take up riding as a child, receive a pony of your own, and go on to enjoy a youth spent in the saddle. At some point, the reality of adulthood hits; owning a horse doesn’t fit into the equation of building a life for yourself. This doesn’t mean that innate love of horses has been relinquished – in fact, quite the opposite. That love is just waiting until that time is right.

For Calla Wahlquist, it was never a matter of if she’d get another horse, it was when. Calla started riding at six, was fortunate enough to have a pony of her own at eleven, and then horses remained an integral part of her life until she began university. At this point, her warmblood dressage horse was retired as a broodmare through injury, and she found herself horseless. As a graduate journalist, city life in pursuit of a career followed, and it paid off: Calla is currently the Melbourne Chief of Staff with Guardian Australia.

“I fell out of horses for a little while. I tried to keep up with lessons, but it was difficult and I didn't ride very much for almost 10 years. If you've ever had your own horse, when you take lessons again, you just feel a bit frustrated. My main issue was I remembered how to do everything, but I was unfit, and my muscles didn’t work. I knew I just needed hours in the saddle, which you can’t really do in a lesson situation,” says Calla.

“During the pandemic, I was thinking about what I wanted to do. I've still got my saddle that I had as a kid, and it’s always been in the back of my mind that I would start riding again.” Calla began looking at agistment places, however she was worried about not being able to see her horse frequently enough while living in the city. Having to sell her warmblood as a broodmare when she was at university was a situation she was determined to avoid repeating: “That experience meant I was really nervous about getting a horse if I didn't have a place where it could live forever.”

Calla explains that changes during the pandemic meant she and her partner’s employment situations allowed them to work remotely some of the time, making it possible to move out of the city and purchase 15 acres in central Victoria. The horse hunt began.

At one point in her teenage years, Calla was given an off the track Thoroughbred from a friend to train up and sell. “He was just lovely to deal with. He was athletic, very willing and very clever. He was just an uncomplicated, fun horse,” recalls Calla, explaining that this experience remained in the back of her mind and is ultimately what led her to considering an off the track horse as her new partner.


“I saw the ad for Mickey come up, and from the photos I thought he looked like the kind of horse I wanted to work with. He seemed really sensible and really solid,” says Calla of the moment she first laid eyes on the off the track thoroughbred that would become her ticket back to horse ownership.

Mickey, who raced as Mickiem, was a local legend on the Warrnambool circuit, racing for ten years and aging out at twelve. “He was quite big; everyone knew him as the biggest horse on the track. The riders used to fight to ride track work on him because he was so sensible,” says Calla. The story goes that Mickey was spelling in a paddock neighbouring Racing Victoria (RV) Acknowledged Retrainer, Grace Chantler. Grace had ridden him in trackwork and suggested his owner put him in RV’s RESET Program.

The RESET (Racehorse, Evaluation, Support, Education and Transition) Program offers direct support and retraining for Thoroughbreds that have struggled to find the right home following the conclusion of their racing careers. Both Mickey’s owner and trainer loved him, and a retirement paddock was never in question, but Grace felt he was too nice and too young to retire – although at fourteen he was older than most being rehomed via RV’s regular Off The Track program.

At the time of spotting the advert, Calla and her partner were still living in Melbourne as their new property was yet to settle and Calla hadn’t ridden for three months due to Covid restrictions. A few other interested buyers came to look at Mickey, but at 17.2 hands they found him too big. Finally, everything fell into line for Calla to go and see him.

“I'd already sent through my references [to RV] because I was quite keen on him. I drove for four hours to see him, rode him for about 20 minutes…. and that was it! He just gave me a couple of moments during that first ride where things just clicked quite well.” While it was instant love for Calla, the RESET Program requires thorough vetting of owners to ensure they are a suitable match.


Mickey and Rev have found their forever home, and it includes plenty of grass! © Calla Wahlquist

Mickey and Rev have found their forever home, and it includes plenty of grass!

© Calla Wahlquist

“I really like that there were so many checks and balances. It can be quite easy to buy a horse, sometimes in a way that I think worries me a little bit. I could really tell with RV that they were not going to just sell me the horse; they wanted to make sure it would work.”

When Calla told friends that she’d purchased a 17.2 hand, fourteen-year-old off the track Thoroughbred, they “thought she was insane”. However, so far Mickey has proven to be the ideal partner.

“He has the demeanour of a middle-aged accountant. He can be playful in the paddock, but once you start saddling him up, he’s like ‘Okay, I’m at work now’,” laughs Calla. “We're taking it very slowly as I haven’t done a lot in such a long time. I'm not in a rush. He’s a clever, nice boy. He is enormous, but he doesn't feel that big when you’re on him.” Calla’s primary interest is dressage, however she’s putting no pressure on herself or the horse to compete or reach certain levels; she just wants to enjoy her time with Mickey and see where their partnership goes.

For Calla, the gelding’s age is a positive rather than a detraction. “There's something about having an older horse… often when people think about an off the track horse, they think of a much younger horse, and they are attached to the idea of a green horse being a young horse. People can often be resistant to getting slightly older Thoroughbreds. If you're trying to produce it for sale, I get that… but for me, it’s a good thing. There’s no baby brain; Mickey’s quite level-headed. Even a horse that has not done as much work as him… when they are older than eight, they seem to have a fully mature brain.

“One of the really great things about the RESET Program is it pulls out these horses and gives them a good solid basis to then go on with. Often, they are horses that might not have had much work outside of trackwork, but they've often done quite a lot in terms of general experience and so it's not the same as getting a brand-new baby that’s just been broken in.”

Mickey took to life off the track with ease, graduating early from his 12-week retraining program and showing an aptitude for dressage. “Grace gave him an excellent foundation and she really felt he was meant to be a dressage horse. She took the time to talk me through his training and even gave me her dressage instructor’s number so I had a good picture of what he would be like to ride. They were assessing me at the same time — I definitely felt I’d passed a test when Grace said we looked good together!”


“When I got Mickey, I asked Grace if she knew of another Thoroughbred that needed a home – preferably one that couldn't or hadn’t been ridden, that would make a good companion horse. She suggested Miss Reveal, a little broodmare.” Calla had been searching for her old warmblood broodmare, Duchess, for the past two years in the hope of bringing her home, to no avail – sadly, she discovered the mare was euthanised following a paddock accident a few years back. Calla thought it fitting to take on a retired broodmare in her honour, and give her a forever home.

Miss Reveal, aka Rev, travelled home with Mickey, and Calla says she’s been a great addition to the family. “She's just such a funny little personality. She's the same age as Mickey but quite different personality-wise, and it's nice to have that balance. Mickey is so sensible; he likes to figure out what the rules are and follows them, while Rev… she offers answers that are not wrong, but she anticipates the question and looks for the shortcut – you explain the pattern to her, but she wants to skip the steps and do the end part!”


Mickey and Rev. © Calla Wahlquist

Mickey "the middle-aged accountant" and Rev the "sidecar".

© Calla Wahlquist

Rev has fallen in love with Mickey, and at 15.2 hands Calla says she sticks to his side in the paddock like his little sidecar. Since arriving, she’s blossomed into a fat, shiny horse that loves to show off in the paddock with quick stops and turns – and has even jumped a fence from a two-stride lead in, which Calla is hoping she doesn’t make a habit of!

While Mickey was nominated for the RESET Program because many had already fallen in love with him and knew his many attributes, Rev is a horse that until this point was probably yet to make an impression on the humans in her life. “There are some horses out there that perhaps no one's had the opportunity to fall in love with yet,” says Calla. “Rev is such a sweetheart… my partner knows nothing about horses, and he's been handling her and it’s been so cute to watch – they have a beautiful connection.”

For Calla, the opportunity to ride on has been a long time coming – but with Mickey and Rev now eagerly awaiting her appearance at the paddock gate each day, it’s clear that the love she’s found has been well worth the wait.

This article was written in conjunction with Racing Victoria.




Back to top. Printable View.