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Driving away from the intense and emotionally draining environment of the Hospital’s oncology unit, Alice Pons has one thing on her mind—getting home to the comfort and serenity of Country Life Farms. “As soon as I drive out of the parking garage,” she says, “I’m like a homing pigeon.”
Pons’ grandfather purchased the Harford County property in 1933 and turned it into a horse-breeding farm that spans 117 acres. Five years ago, the family purchased an additional 150 acres a few miles away and built a training facility. Over the years, Country Life has produced several award-winning horses, including 17-year-old Cigar, a member of the Racing Hall of Fame whose winnings included the coveted U.S. Breeders’ Cup Classic.
For Pons, though, Country Life offers more than horse racing and awards. It provides a refuge from the clamor and hustle of the Hospital.
Sitting in the den of her family’s turn-of-the-century farmhouse, a fire gleaming in the pellet stove and a golden retriever sitting at her feet, Pons is clearly in her element. Outside, snow falls on the ground, and a mare and her foal meander through a fenced-in pasture.
“This place is therapeutic,” says Pons, an NC-III on Weinberg 5. “The city is so noisy and dirty. The farm is the antithesis of that.”
She loves the farm so deeply that it’s hard to envision her leaving it four days a week to work 12-hour shifts as an oncology nurse. But even harder to imagine is the willpower she gathered in 1999, when she sacrificed her job as the farm’s manager to become a nurse.
Back then, Pons supervised everything from the breeding process to the budget. By 1998, however, she had started considering other career possibilities, including veterinary school. Then, in 1999, a close friend was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Soon, Pons was driving her friend back and forth for treatment. “I was just amazed by what the nurses did,” she says. “They’re right there in the trenches. Then, my friend told me that I should be working with humans.”
Pons took her friend’s advice, and that year, she enrolled in the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. She hasn’t completely given up farm work, though.
Even after a long day’s work, Pons still checks in on the horses when she returns home, particularly during foaling season, when mares can give birth at any time. She spends many weekends at regional horse races, and she can recite a complete background of the 50 or so horses in their stables, from their ages to their weights to the probability of their siring another foal. “I don’t have a definitive role here any more,” she says. “I’m just an extra set of eyes and ears.
Leaving the farm behind was hard. The rewards of her work as a nurse, however, make the change worthwhile. “The beauty of it,” she explains, “is that many of the same ailments that befall animals also affect humans. Before, I was basically a nurse for animals.”