In January of 1989, photographer David Harp and horseman Josh Pons began a chronicle of the life of Reprimand, a Thoroughbred filly. Mr. Harp's photos coincided with the beginning of Mr. Pons' daily diary of life at Maryland's oldest breeding farm, Country Life Farm in Bel Air.
Excerpted below is the story not only of a young horse, but also of a family which has been raising horses on its Harford County land since 1933. Mr. Pons' diary is scheduled to be made into a book, and the entries below are reprinted with permission of the publisher. In early diary entries, Reprimand is referred to by her nickname, Amazon Queen.
TUESDAY, JAN. 17, 1989
A photographer visited the farm today. He thought he had a novel idea about documenting the life of a Thoroughbred from birth to the racetrack, until I told him Sports Illustrated set the standard 30 years ago when it followed Iron Liege from the foaling stall at Calumet Farm to the winner's circle of the Kentucky Derby.
"Well, you'll just have to pick the one that wins the Preakness," he answered.
WEDNESAY, MARCH 8, 1989
A foal's front feet, even when merely grasped in the birth canal, reveal the size of the body to follow. This foal had a handshake like that of a stevedore, and we braced for the difficult pull through the mare's pelvis. Three years from now, when this filly reaches the racetrack, we will see the photos, and recall delivering tonight's Amazon Queen.
SATURDAY, MARCH 11, 1989
The photographer wandered unattended down to the foaling barn, his 8-year-old daughter in tow. He read the message on the Dry-Erase Board: "Foal born 10:10 Friday Night; Foal Died 10:20." He explained to the young girl that things hadn't gone well last night here on the horse farm.
Then they quietly walked off, hand-in-hand, toward the field where the Amazon Queen at three days cantered in perfect sync with her dam.
THURSDAY, MARCH 23, 1989
Two days into spring, our equine nutritionist arrives with 10 pages of analysis on our pasture, hay and grain. I feel like he's a math teacher piling on the homework when he visits in the busy days of spring. By the time our suckling foals reach three months of age, they will weigh 375 pounds. They grow three pounds a day from the day they are born until they level off as yearlings.
SATURDAY, MAY 20, 1989
A foal is a dream. Nobody knows where the runners are. They might be sleeping in the shadow of the barn, dreaming of the glories of the turf. My grandfather was August Belmont's agent in the sale of Man o' War. My father stood a stallion who beat Citation. My earliest memories are of Carry Back, who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 1961. Carry Back was conceived here at Country Life.
My job is to keep the dreams alive, to fulfill the glorious uncertainty of raising Thoroughbreds.
FRIDAY, JULY 14, 1989
Cool weather in the forecast. Today, we weaned three foals who were more than five months of age. We led the moms away from the field quickly, leaving eight other mares and foals to baby-sit. The unweaned foals kept the weaned foals company. By dusk, all hollering had quieted. Three sucklings had become weanlings.
SATURDAY, OCT. 14, 1989
An orange moon came over the treetops as if being tugged aloft by the setting sun. Tonight, the weanlings will call out to each other on Nature's stage, and we can laugh and applaud them in the moonlight, and take the cue from "Richard III." "A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!"
SATURDAY, DEC. 9, 1989
The Amazon Queen was at her finest this morning, as if aware of the camera. When the 13 weanlings galloped away from the gate, the motor drive captured the moment. The Amazon Queen in the lead, gliding past in a cloud of snow.
MONDAY, JAN. 29, 1990
The Jockey Club, which is the registrar for the Thoroughbred breed, approved the name Reprimand for the filly we nicknamed the Amazon Queen. Her mother, after all, is named Scold. Reprimand. A strong name. A very strong filly.
WEDNESDAY, JAN. 31, 1990
When I think back over January, I find myself looking forwards instead of backwards. Three weeks ago, we said goodbye to four youngsters we raised from birth. They were bound for training centers. My wife Ellen passed the van on the way to town. She recognized each 2-year-old simply by their eyes peering out in helpless anticipation as the driver headed for I-95. We always called them by their mothers' names. Now they have names of their own.
When we come up for air after the breeding season, we hope to see their eyes again, peering from the starting gates of Maryland's racetracks.
SATURDAY, APRIL 20, 1990
Scold, the mother of the Amazon Queen, foaled this week, but the mare has not bounced back. When her colt lies down, she joins him. When he canters in play, she simply trots behind him.
Often, the mare speaks quietly of their discomfort. I am not always listening, but sister Alice has my ear. "Please keep an eye on Scold," she asked, as the mare lay down in the grass again. I used to overreact to such surveillance -- as if to say, "I can't do everything." Now I listen, and observe, grateful for the help.
THURSDAY, MAY 24, 1990
The vet fixed his stethoscope to the rib cage of the Amazon Queen's brother. I listened. Even to my untrained ear, the whoosh, whoosh, whooshing of blood through the colt's heart roared, as he strained to keep up with oxygen demand. The stethoscope had taken inside the colt's heart murmur, and I visualized his imperfect heart, shunting blood frantically through its chambers.
Mild exertion could kill this foal. It broke my heart to realize I would have to put this colt down. But what's a horse without a heart?
SUNDAY, AUG. 26, 1990
It's close to 100 degrees today. Horses sweat in their stalls, sweat in their fields, yet the Amazon Queen has hardly turned a hair. She is so regal. She is the best-looking foal on the farm.
THURSDAY, JUNE 20, 1991
By the time our 10-year-old stallion is 20 -- in the first year of the next century -- Maryland's place in history as a Thoroughbred-producing state will be in its final chapter. The demand for land on the Eastern seaboard will eclipse the profit from raising horses in the Boston/Washington corridor.
Across Route 1 from our front fields, wheels are in motion for public water and sewage. I named my son after my father, in part for the stability a namesake sometimes provides, and I pray that the boy will have more than this diary to remember our farm by.