It was face-meltingly hot and humid, a perfect late summer afternoon in eastern Canada. We had accepted an invitation to visit W. Charlot Farms in Stratford, Ontario, to meet their horses and had been sent to a vantage point up on the sun-baked hillside. Here we would see where the ‘raw diamonds’ were grown, all related to the 30 lovely young sale horses that had been presented to us either under saddle or jumping through a chute, expressing their natural talents. We had been shown three-year old beauties who dazzled us with their exquisite movement and form-perfect bascules through the jump chutes, to finished hunters and jumpers ready for the show ring.
We were horse shopping and for whatever reason had never made the trip to see what could be purchased directly from one of the leading breeders of sport horses right here in Canada. We made ourselves comfortable with flies buzzing, bird twittering, and an occasional splash from the sleepy river in the little valley below us. Standing high up on the hill and squinting into the sun, it was hard to see the horses far away on the opposite side of the river. Our feet felt the vibration which became a distinct rumble that in seconds magnified into the crescendo of thundering hoofbeats.
The sight of 20 horses moving in herd formation, emerging from the top of the hill and then cannoning down and along the far side of the little river, was breathtaking! A moving kaleidoscope of bay, black, chestnut and grey; mares, foals, yearlings and two-year-olds creating a force of power great enough to push the wild geese into departing off the water like a curtain.
Once through the river, leaping and galloping up the banks, the horses spread out as they entered the pasture. It took merely minutes before they settled, dropping heads for the green grass, grazing into splinter groups of friends and family, with the odd colt or filly playing ‘race my neighbour’ or ‘you can’t catch me.’ We were witness to a scene that has been replayed here for over 40 years. Today we were being entertained by daughters and sons of the mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers who had been selected and raised right here on the banks of the Avon River. The key ingredients – open grass pastures, hills, herd life, and freedom – along with well-researched bloodlines and the invaluable instinct of a true horseman make up the formula as to how champions are produced at W. Charlot Farms, the best-kept secret of Canadian horse breeding.
A solid foundation
In 1980, Augustin Walch came to Canada from Munich, Germany, with his wife, five young children, and his mother. He also brought with him his foundation Hanoverian mare Sarabande and her two daughters, State Premium Hanoverians Sabrina and Sandra, both sired by the Trakehner stallion Kassio, and two Hanoverian colts, Sergeij (Sender/Grande) and Dimitrij (Dynamo/Abhang III). From this little original herd, Augustin built the brand of W. Charlot Farm into a Canadian success story. And the last chapter has not been written yet.
Each year, he would keep the best of this original small herd’s daughters and granddaughters, breeding them to stallions he carefully selected. The first big break came with Walch’s purchase of the young Elite Hanoverian stallion Rio Grande (Raphael/Windhuk/Pik Koenig), and along with orchestrating this stallion’s career as both performer and producer, he began to produce a very specific broodmare type. Augustin then took his Rio daughters and bred them to his acquired Hanoverian stallions Futurist (For Pleasure/Madison/Derwisch) and Viva Voltaire (Voltaire/Argentinus/Grannus), matching occasionally with others of compatible bloodlines, and proceeded to breed their daughters. These girls carried the original dam lines and Rio Grande genetics, and then Augustin added the carefully-selected bloodlines of the renowned Cabardino (Carpaccio/Gaspari I /Cor de La Bryere), a Holsteiner stallion.
Augustin and his herd of prolific mares were instrumental in writing the playbook for Cabardino’s ensuing performance and sire career. In 2017, he once again added new blood with his youngest champion, the Oldenburg stallion Diamo Blue (Diadaro-Diamant deSemilly/Chacco Blue/Landadel). The results are more than gratifying as the resulting offspring instantly began to add their names to the W. Charlot Farms’ list of winners.
Keeping the best mares from each generation for himself, and with careful attention to the stallions and bloodlines that blended well, Augustin has built up a breeding program that has put himself and the farm on the top of the USEF Leading Breeder of Hunters list. From 2004 to 2013, and again from 2016 to 2019, he has held the torch as the leading breeder. His stallions have held top spots on leading sire lists over the years, and Cabardino has held office as USEF Leading Hunter Sire in 2017 and 2018 and finished top three in 2019.
The list of winning offspring is long and varied and includes:
- Rio Bronco – 2002 AHSA (now USEF) Horse of the Year (Amanda Starbuck); 2002 and 2003 USET A/O Hunter Champion;
- Rio Renoir – numerous Working Hunter Championships under Holly Orlando including $60,000 National Horse Show Open Hunter Championship at WEF 2005;
- Viva’s Salieri – with Tom Dvorak, best Canadian horse at the 2011 Pan Am Games in Guadalajara, winning the team silver medal and placing fourth individually;
- Catwalk – by Rio Grande, show jumping World Cup Qualifier winner with Darren Dlin and represented Canada at 2008 World Cup Finals;
- Chantilly Lace – by Cabardino, Braeburn Farms Hunter Derby winner at 2019 Royal with Kristjan Good
- Waverly – by Cabardino, Green Hunter Champion at 2019 Capital Challenge with Holly Orlando
Reminiscing on his horses and their success, Augustin Walch made a point to say that he had a lot to be thankful for and emphasized that he didn’t do all of this by himself. “We could not have achieved what we did without the support of several riders who were on their way to the top when they rode our horses. We are very grateful to Canadian team members Eric Lamaze, Erynn Ballard, American team members Jenni Martin and Alex Granato, and more recently Kristjan Good, here in our area.” He added, “I am so very grateful to Erynn Ballard for making a champion hunter out of show jumper Cabardino who won at WEF, Kentucky, and was National Champion at the Royal.”
But prior to Erynn and Cabardino’s successes, Augustin pointed out that Erynn had already had much success with his special ‘heart horse’ Futurist, his favourite stallion by For Pleasure. Futurist was the six-year-old National Champion at the Royal, the Eastern Canada Champion and Ontario Champion six-year-old Young Jumper with Roberto Teran, before winning countless Open Jumper classes with Erynn. From the prize monies Futurist won, the team managed to “finance” the fees for subsequent W. Charlot Farms young horses entry fees for many years in the Young Horse Development program.
“Our most special time was in the early and mid-2000s when our horses won so many Young Horse Jumping classes and year-end championships with Erynn Ballard. She would meet the horses at the horse show and catch ride into top money without ever riding or training throughout the week. A talented young rider, that girl!” Augustin smiled as he stopped to pat Diamo walking down the stallion barn aisle. “And now we have another talented young rider in Kristjan Good. The success in the hunter derbies with Stakkato Grande and Chantilly Lace and this guy here Diamo Blue, reminds me that it isn’t just me that makes a good horse; they also have these good riders that understand them.”
As we sat at the dining room table late in the day, Augustin pointed at a magnificent painting on the wall. “That horse, I will forever be grateful to him. Rio Grande definitely put us on the map; one of proudest moments was when Rio finished second in the Olympic selection trials for the 1996 Olympics and was part of winning Nations Cup team at the 1995 Royal with Eric Lamaze.”
Augustin is eighty years young this year, and after driving his last load of hay off the fields in 2019, he finally acknowledged that he will no longer be part of the harvest – it was time to retire. And will he would be doing in retirement? “Sleep a bit more, travel and spend time with my wife, visit the family in Germany, go to a few horse sales …. the future is still in front of me.”
Walking through the stallion barn, after visiting W Charlot Farms’ 50 horses (down from the heydays when 180 head lived on the property), it was great to see Viva Voltaire, 23 years young, now retired from all duties. Keeping him company across the aisle is #1 USEF Hunter Sire Cabardino and Hunter Derby Winner Diamo Blue. The 2020 season has arrived at W Charlot Farm and Augustin’s program will continue in the capable hands of his daughter, Inge Walch-Allard, who has been the breeding manager for over 20 years. A select group of 20 mares, weanlings, yearlings and two-year-olds have been kept out of the 2020 sales catalog in order to continue the reproduction program Inge and Augustin have worked out together.
When asked how she felt when her father stated his retirement last fall, Inge said, “My father has been my mentor and it will be a challenge to follow in his footsteps, but I am certain that I can call on him anytime for his advice. I am confident in taking over, as I learned the trade from the master and I have all the tools necessary to continue.”
Regarding what the future may hold, she paused from feeding the last of the stabled horses to comment, “It is certainly an honour to take over such a big operation but in a smaller, refined form. Working closely with my father for the past 28 years, I have learned a lot about breeding and raising horses. It takes patience and dedication to bring along the young stock. I equally share the same passion of my father, and working along side him for all these years, he gave me confidence, he shared his expertise, and trusted my decisions. It has always been a dream of mine working with the horses. I can only hope to continue his legacy, and make my father proud, by continuing to produce such amazing and talented equestrian athletes which will continue to excel in the show ring. I want to thank my father for giving me his vote of confidence and handing the reins over to me.”
W Charlot Farms’ warmblood breeding program is the legacy of one man’s dreams and visions, a man who has remained quietly in the background of a Canadian dynasty while selecting, sorting, studying and imagining what his goal of a good horse should be. A horse that is attractive, athletic, with lots of scope and a great technique over jumps, and a wonderful attitude that allows the owner to develop the horse in more than one discipline. Augustin Walch, a man with a dream, a little German ingenuity and driven to succeed, found the right place and time to create the ideal Canadian sport horse.