Down Memory Lane: Last Visit to Shalom Farm

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sold1Written by Heather Clemenceau

Sometimes, returning to a place in our pasts, even a happy place, can be one of the most emotionally draining experiences that a person can endure.  This was certainly true for me when I ventured back to the now abandoned Shalom Farm,  where I had taken riding lessons years ago and ultimately purchased my mare Dalrahza from Les Wagschal.

York Region Ontario is home to over 1500 horse farms and more than 20,000 horses.  Shalom Farm was a breeder of Egyptian

Yellow Ribbons typically signal return or remembrance, loyalty, or support of military troops.

Yellow Ribbons typically signal return or remembrance, loyalty, or support of military troops.

and Anglo-Arabian horses from the mid-seventies until Les passed away in 2002,  but the farm continued on until shortly before it was sold in 2011,  so that the remaining horses could be sold.  Now,  the 150 acres are designated as  “Heritage,”  and according to the town of Whitchurch-Stouffville,  there have been no applications made by the current developer to change that designation or even build on the land.  I expect that in the near future it will become home to subdivisions or big box stores, which seems to be the demise of a lot of picturesque properties in the area.  These saving graces – networks of small, picturesque horse farms that meander through the landscape were and are so comforting.  You know that the moment civilization proves too much to bear, you can drive a short distance to your stable and tack up a horse and without crossing any major roads, head for the York Region forests, not to be heard from for hours.

Through a broken window.......

Through a broken window…….

A couple of weeks ago I decided to return to the farm with my camera to preserve the memories.  The imposing iron gates, normally closed to prevent the possibility of a horse escaping out on to a major road,  were wide open,  and there were deep tire marks throughout the property.  Outside looking around, I saw it: the century farmhouse, the “guesthouse,”  the formerly productive land, farm implements, and the two barns and large arena.

The outbuildings near the home and arena are now in terrible disrepair, and the house was sadly in much the same condition, having been salvaged of anything that could be driven away or carried off.  A previous tenant operating a school in the last few years built a beautiful observation gallery in the arena,  which is now stripped as well.  In assessing the condition of the buildings,  there is a visceral truthfulness that spares nothing.  The porch steps are completely gone, and the front door is absent, now covering a large hole in the floor.  Some windows were broken or missing.  I stood in silence and awaited the memories and old familiarities, feeling buffeted by grief and loss.  In my opinion,  no one is able to  have authentic interactions with supernatural beings,  because I’m quite sure that the supernatural does not exist,  but were ghosts of horses and people past following me around wanting to be heard?  It was very much like glimpsing another reality.  I vividly remembered each horse standing in his/her stall as if the memory were maybe six months old….

Of course, Les Wagschal was an internationally known clinician, giving seminars/clinics all over the world.  He was 11 Times National/Reserve Champion – Dressage, and 3 Times Open National Champion

Nature gradually reclaims her possessions

Nature gradually reclaims her possessions

Dressage in U.S. and Canada.  He acquired some of his foundation breeding stock from Germany and the EAO.  He was perhaps most famous for breeding/competing with Shalom Mishkoh +//,  an imposing and talented 16.2 grey Anglo-Arabian sired by Serenity Osiris and a thoroughbred mare,  trained to Grand Prix in dressage.  He even won the Devon Open one year.  Shalom horses are used as sporthorses all over the world, and Les sold horses to Sheikhas and porn stars, and regular horse enthusiasts like me.

There was padlock on the gate and a “No Trespassing” sign up when I drove by two days later.

I wish I had met Les and his family (and Dalrahza who is also now gone) years before I did.  I was so fortunate to have the opportunity to be coached by both Les and his daughter; you just don’t get many opportunities to learn from people of this calibre.  You also don’t get many opportunities to own a horse that has competed in the US Nationals and excelled as a working cow horse,  trail mount, and a carriage driving horse.  Sometimes it takes years to learn to relax and enjoy riding, and then you realize you should have started sooner.  But after the ride is over, no one can take the grief away, nor should anyone try.  Our love for people and animals is nothing but a gift, and it keeps on giving, even when they go home.

And, of course, the happy memories – they tide us over the stormy and sad days if we are willing to keep them alive. They can give us warmth on the most chilly and lonely nights. Nurture them, and keep them safe.

About Heather Clemenceau

Hopefully as I've grown older I've also grown wiser, but one thing I've definitely become cognizant of is the difference between making a living and making a life. Frequently outraged by some of life's cruelties, and respect diversity. But.....I don't suffer fools gladly, and occasionally, this does get me into some trouble! I have the distinction of being the world's worst golfer - no wait, I do believe that there is a gypsy in Moldavia who is a worse golfer than I. Nor am I much of a dancer - you won't see a booty-shakin' flygirl routine from me! I'm also not the kind of cook who can whip up a five-course meal on a radiator either! And I've never figured out how to get an orchid to bloom a second time. I love to discuss literature, science, philosophy, and sci-fi , or even why Seinfeld is funny on so many levels. Words move me. I'm very soft-hearted about most things, especially animals, but I have a stoicism about me that is sometimes interpreted incorrectly. I do have a definite edge and an often "retro-adolescent" sense of humour at times. I'm a big advocate of distributed computing projects to advance science. Check out http://boinc.berkeley.edu/ if you want to find out more. I'm an eclectic (but not crazy) vegetarian, and as such, it's a personal practice of mine to seduce innocent meat-eaters into cruising the (salad) bars at every opportunity. You would be powerless to resist. I was recently surprised to find that a computer algorithm concluded that I write like Dan Brown, which is funny because I didn't think Dan Brown could actually write. Check out your own style - http://iwl.me/ Oh, and I love impractical shoes and funky hats.

7 responses »

  1. “And, of course, the happy memories – they tide us over the stormy and sad days if we are willing to keep them alive. They can give us warmth on the most chilly and lonely nights. Nurture them, and keep them safe.”

    AMEN!

  2. What a beautiful tribute Heather. I live in the area and have passed that place many times, and wondered how many lives it had touched. It’s always so heartbreaking to see these amazing places close.

  3. I just found your post and was very touched by it. I only saw the Wagschalls every year at the Egyptian Event. My mom’s stallion, Imperial ImSirdar, and her gelding, Texas Ibn Sirdar, were at Shalom Farm for training. My own mare, Cedars Kasane, is out of Shalom Sabbath.

    Les offered once to let me come up and spend the summer as an intern. I wish I had gone.

    You wrote a beautiful tribute. Thank you.

    • I’m very sorry for the loss of Texas. I remember seeing Sirdar (the stallion) at the farm. Les always spoke very highly of him. I have a pic of Zipporah riding him. So many memories – for me this was the happiest time in my life.

      Glad you enjoyed the post. Best wishes to you and your farm.

      • Thank you for sharing your memories and the pictures. Les was an amazing man and the farm he and his family had inspired many people.

  4. Oh goodness Heather, you have touched me greatly with your words and photos. I worked for Les for a few years before becoming pregnant. They too were the best years of my life. I had been in Canada ( i am English), for only a few years before becoming severely affected with depression and anxiety. I heard that there was a dressage man locally in the area and wrote him a letter. Les greeted me with open arms and shortly after I found myself working for him. He was a great, amazing man and we had fun riding together at the Egyptian event in Kentucky. This was in 1988 , a long while back! My husbands job determined that we had to move to Edmonton. I was very sorry to have to leave Shalom Farm. I did manage to see Les when my son was three months old but this was the last time I saw him. Years later ( i returned to the uk In1991 )and saw that he had passed away and I was absolutely shocked and very sad. There isn’t a month that goes by that I don’t think of him and I am so blessed that I had some time with him. I tried to find out what had happened to the farm and horses by writing to Zepporah and Marny but to no avail. I promised myself that one day I would visit there and make some more memories. Thank you so much Heather for putting this on the Internet, you have helped me so much to heal from the shock . I just wish I could have just one piece of something from the farm and a keepsake. I think if I had gone there I would have pinched the sign!!!! L
    You have made me feel so much better with your article amongst many, many tears. I am going to print it out with the photos and keep it in my keepsake file. It is always sad to see property’s changing hands and new ones going up, but this is/ was such a special place for me and always will be. Your photos bring back many memories even after being in disrepair , it will always be special to me.
    Thanks again Heather
    Lindy

    • Hi Lindy, thanks for writing, I feel as though we are kindred spirits in some ways. I think of Les regularly too, and since I live a very short distance from the farm now, I really dread the day when I see it all being razed. I may consider moving because the necessity of driving by and see it filled with big box stores or houses will really be painful, as is the memory of losing my horse – they’re very closely tied together for me. There are so many horses buried on the property too, it’s a shame it can’t be their final resting place.

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