Book Review: Merryland

Book Review: Merryland

Like most people, I adore literature that takes place in areas I’m familiar with – it’s always fun to read about places I know and love. The characters and descriptions become so much more real, (and if reading a memoir, they are real). Last year I read Josh Pons’ Country Life: Three Years in the Life of a Horse Farm, and thoroughly enjoyed getting an insider’s look at the farm that is right up the street from me. Immediately after finishing this one, I grabbed his most recent book, Merryland: Two Years in the Life of a Racing Stable, and was instantly mesmerized by it.

The Pons family has owned Country Life Farm since its inception in 1933 when purchased by Josh’s grandfather, Adophe. Merryland Farm, however, was purchased by the family in 2005. At the time, it had fallen into slight disrepair having been owned by a variety of families since it was first built by racehorse trainer, Danny Shea, in 1939.


Bit-by-bit, the Pons family breathes new life back into Merryland, and barns are renovated, houses are cleaned, roofs are repaired, and tracks are maintained. It’s constant, back-breaking, expensive work, but to those who are hooked on horses and entranced by a life of country, it’s worth it.

Pons, as usual, leaves nothing to the imagination and takes us through the highs and lows of life on a training farm. We celebrate every win and breeding success with him, and then we mourn at the sudden loss of his father. And weaved throughout this prose are literary references that make this English major’s heart soar.

Below are three of my favorite passages.

Thursday, September 1
It’s reckless behavior to like horses. Four-legged creatures of infinite caprice, they inhabit a world all their own, where nothing is certain except a good story.

Mark Twain, on any horse: “My experience is that they never throw away an excuse to go lame, and that in all respects, they are well-meaning and unreliable animals.”

A.J. Liebling, though, understood the sweet obsession, and wrote of J.R. Keene: “The triumphs of his horses were to him the most potent of tonics, accountable, according to his physicians, for his continued survival.”

Friday, November 4
Philip and Josh arrive home from school to bring in sales mares for blanketed nights. Josh stands in the grass by the gate. I say: I’m heading to Kentucky tomorrow.

“But I don’t have school Thursday! You said we’d drive down together!”

Tell a kid something, they never forget. His grandfather’s voice in my mind, Yoda-like: “Take the boy. Take the boy.”

“What classes do you have on Monday?”

“I won’t miss anything. I’ll make it up.”

Kentucky is powerful juju, a can’t-wait-to-get-there-place, at 50, at 15.

Thursday, June 1
Climb to the edge of the woods. Just far enough away that the farm becomes a postcard. Stand back from it. Breathe. My, what a lovely city for horses is Merryland.

From here, you understand: It can’t all be fixed at once. In time, replace the post. Flash the shingles. Patch the road. Level the stalls.

Renovation is one part inspiration, nine parts perspiration. Find enough distance to keep perspective.

How true is each and every one of these words? Horses are addicting. Kentucky is a dream. Farm work is never done.

Oh, the things we love, and the things we do for the things we love.

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