Josh Pons relates the griefs and joys of 3 years on a Fallston horse farm


April 04, 1993|By Nancy Menefee Jackson | Nancy Menefee Jackson,Contributing Writer

It's a story of heartbreaks and high fives, of foals born with contracted forelegs and foals born to win, of stallions who successfully cover a mare, and stallions who are successful at chomping a handler's arm.

In "Country Life Diary," Josh Pons chronicles three years of the daily life of the renowned, 113-acre thoroughbred breeding farm his family owns and runs in Fallston.

The breeder brings to his writing an obvious love of the life on the farm and a gift for evoking images not only of breeding but also of the world that gently unfolds around him.

"The two Canada geese nesting on Winters Run suddenly appeared on the pond at dusk, flanked by seven infants -- a flock of fist-sized yellow goslings stuck like glue to swimming parents," he writes. "A few days ago, I found broken shells scattered on the Winters Run island and despaired that the eggs had been attacked by predators. But no, the eggs had simply hatched! How stupid of me!"

In another passage, he writes, "Goslings on the pond, foals in the field, a baby boy on my back -- youngsters everywhere. It's springtime on the farm."

You'll find such detail throughout Mr. Pons painstaking 419-page account, which he began in 1989. His efforts have won widespread acclaim and recently captured the top honor in the horse-racing industry, the Eclipse Award from the Thoroughbred Racing Association.

The award took him by surprise.

"It's not about racing per se," he says. "I don't think you have to love horses to like this book."

The idea for the book came from Edward L. Bowen, the senior editor of The Blood Horse magazine, which serialized the diary's segments. Mr. Bowen saw the project as a modern-day answer to "The Stud Farm Diary," a chronicle writ

ten in 1935 by Humphrey Finney, whose farm became Sandy Point State Park.

The 38-year-old Mr. Pons seemed a natural for the project, having written for the magazine full-time for three years before he attended law school and then returned home to the family's farm.

The farm is home to Mr. Pons, his parents and four brothers and sisters and their spouses and children. True to form, the book became a family project, with Mr. Pons' mother, Mary Jo, editing the book, and his wife, Ellen, providing the pen-and-ink illustrations.

And the family took over his share of the muck-and-manure chores to give him time to write.

Remembering the rainy days in frigid barns when a mare struggled with foaling and the horses became sick, Mr. Pons confesses, "I'd rather sit and write about it than do it."

Write about it he did -- everyday -- using a hand-held tape recorder and frequent note-taking to supplement his memory.

His book reveals the reality of horse breeding. Consider a July morning that he recounts:

"The mare hates needles, hates vets, hates being tube-wormed -- but she loves getting a cold bath on a hot day. We stand her in the chute, splashing water over her, rubbing her, talking to her. She is busy trying to drink from the hose as we pinch a fold of skin on her neck. No fright response. She is cool in the water. We insert the needle and administer a small dose [of a drug] in the muscle of her neck.

"Twenty minutes pass. She lifts her head sluggishly, allows us to twitch her, then worm her."

So much for glamour.

"We're just farmers," Mr. Pons says. "Everything we've got is tied up in these horses."

L He's quick to laugh off the image of wealthy horse breeders.

"Maybe that's true in Monkton," he says. "But this isn't Monkton. This is Belair Road."

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