Rock On - By Evan Hammonds

Certain houseguests are always welcome. For folks like Josh Pons, the key is under the doormat; the last of the coffee there for the taking. The prized former employee makes his way back into the pages of BloodHorse this week with the first installment of his third serial column in the magazine, titled “Letters from Rockland Farm.”

Pons, and his wife, Ellen, operate Country Life Farm near Bel Air, Md., along with his brother, Michael, and Michael’s wife, Lisa. In his formative years Josh worked his way through law school at the University of Kentucky and also worked at The Blood-Horse magazine under the tutelage of editor-in-chief Kent Hollingsworth. The young Pons won the Eclipse Award for magazine writing in 1981.

In January 1982 editor Kent Hollingsworth wrote in this space:

“We noticed how smart the Eclipse Award journalism committee was. It has been our opinion, held for many years and thus hardened into conviction, that The Blood-Horse has been publishing award-winning stories every week. The opinion is not always shared, but our Edward L. Bowen and William H. Rudy have won Eclipse Awards in years past, and their work in 1981 drew mention of honor by the committee.

“Most recent winner of the Eclipse Award for magazine writing is Joseph P. Pons Jr., who has been with The Blood-Horse for the last eight summers, and three cold winters between his graduation from the University of Virginia and matriculation at the University of Kentucky law school.

“Pons, whose father and grandfather before him raised horses at their Country Life Farm in Maryland, received the Eclipse Award for his story on the Thoroughbred industry in Ohio (The Blood-Horse of July 25, 1981, page 4316), part of a continuing series of articles surveying the industry in each of the 20 leading Thoroughbred-producing states.

“With this award and but seven academic hours and bar exams before him, Pons resigned from The Blood-Horse staff and bought a stallion to stand at Country Life Farm. Every young lawyer should have one.”

It didn’t take long for Pons to get the itch to return to writing. His byline returned in 1989, and it ran monthly through 1991 in serial format. “Country Life Farm Diary” followed a family’s life and times raising Thoroughbreds at the farm in Maryland. It won the Eclipse Award for journalism for 1992 and was also published in book form; so popular, a revised edition appeared in 1999.

Pons called again a few years later, pitching a daily diary format called “Merryland,” which appeared in monthly format in The Blood-Horse starting in March 2005. The series took readers through the Ponses’ purchase of Merryland Farm, a training center, in 2001, and a different phase in the Thoroughbred cycle: that of transforming a young horse into an equine athlete.

A lot has happened in the Thoroughbred industry—and specifically in Maryland—since the “Merryland” series came to a close. Marylanders are a hearty bunch, and the “lifers” have made their way through a downturn and have managed to emerge on the other side.

New stallions have arrived at Country Life and at other Maryland farms the last few seasons, adding some life back into the state. A well-devised program to dole out funds generated by slot machines from a casino in Baltimore has given those in the Free State a little more rope.

Pons called once more, right before the holidays, wanting to stretch his legs. He pitched a new project, and we quickly bit. “Letters from Rockland Farm” will lend itself to his observations—and Ellen’s marvelous photos—to the state of the industry today while also drawing parallels from the family farm’s history, found in musty letters, correspondence, and catalogs that have been tucked away in the attic of the main house.

We welcome Josh and family back to the pages of BloodHorse. We hope you enjoy his company as much as we do.

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