By Jennifer K. Dansicker
10:56 AM EST, March 2, 2012
For more than two centuries, Harford County has been synonymous with country life and farming. So it’s no surprise that since 1933 it is the home to Maryland’s oldest thoroughbred nursery, Country Life Farm.
CFL was founded by Adolphe Pons, a turf advisor to August Belmont II, who handled the sale of Man O’ War, considered one of the greatest thoroughbred racehorses of all time. Following Adolphe's death in 1951, CLF passed to his sons, John and Joe. Today, this family business is being run by Adolphe’s grandsons, Mike, 55, and Josh Pons, 57.
“Growing up, we had to be in the barn to see our brothers and sisters because everyone was working the farm,” says Mike, who started working on the farm in the 1980s. “It was a great way to grow up, being responsible for the animals. So many kids today don’t have anything to take care of.”
Mike has been CLF’s business manager for 25 years, while brother Josh, with a law degree from University of Kentucky, is the general manager of both CLF and their Baltimore County farm, Merryland Farm. Though their father passed away in 2005, their mother, Mary Jo, continues to work on the farm along with all five of her grandchildren.
“We have a lot of fun. Our business is a combination of agriculture, competition, sports, and so much history. Horse racing has 250 years of history in the U.S., baseball only has 100 years.” He continues, “Our business has opportunities in sales, training, riding and so much more.” There is something for everyone in the family to do on this horse farm, says Mike.
The brothers learned their love of horseracing from their father, Joe Pons Sr. “Being a part of this farm and racing history is all I ever wanted to do,” says Mike. “We traveled to Saratoga and attended races and horse sales all over the country. And we got to see behind the scenes and loved it,” says Mike.
Mike and his wife, Lisa, a retired Harford County special educator, have three children: Philip, 23, Elizabeth, 21 and David, 19. Josh and his wife, Ellen, an artist and photographer, have two sons, Josh, 21 and August, 18.
“We now have had four generations working on the farm” Mike says. “Even my siblings, Norah, Andrew and Alice, who are no longer involved in the day-to-day operations, have a strong love for the farm. We are all tied to the land. Some of our most successful stallions are buried here.”
CLF has been the home of many great horses and is the birthplace Cigar, a two-time Horse of the Year and Ask the Moon, winner of two 2011 Grade One races at Saratoga.
“Harford County is a great place to raise a family and run a business,” says Mike. “Many of our employees live here as well as several clients. My grandfather recognized this fact nearly 80 years ago, and it still holds today.”
The success of their family business is that their livelihood depends on it, Mike says. “You look at the families like the Ripkens and why they succeeded when other people didn’t. They had good coaching and folks that loved what they were doing. We have a similar story,” he says.
Of course, the way the Pons do business has changed drastically over the years because of the Internet. “All our good horses are owned with partners now,” Mike says. “This farm has gone from being a Maryland business to the whole region from the Carolinas to New York. Because of technology, we have clients in Denver and Texas as well that own shares on a horse.”
Mike has served on the Harford Country Agriculture Advisory Board and the Maryland Horse Breeders Association Board. CLF conducts farm tours and educates visitors from all over the country, who have visited their facility to learn more about the horse industry.
“We try to give back locally as much as we can,” Mike says. “Over the years, we have hired many people from Harford County who are interested in horse racing and breeding.”
Country Life Farm
319 Old Joppa Road
Fallston, MD 21047
Copyright © 2013, The Baltimore Sun