“Hold on tight,” Adalbert “Adie” von Gontard Jr. says as I climb into his golf cart for a tour of Field View Farm, the stately brick home on 20 rolling acres where he and wife, Mamie, have lived since 1951.
Charging ahead, he races around the Greenwich farm, showing me the lay of the land. Animals abound at Field View Farm. There are quarter horses, miniature horses, a Dexter Black Angus calf, a Sicilian donkey, a Mexican burro, chickens, geese, doves and dogs. And that’s not including the wild animals, such as the deer and turkeys he puts food out for.
“I love nature and I love to keep the trails open. That’s the way I like to live and that’s what I’ve created here at Field View Farm,” he says.
Born to ride
After the tour he ushers me into his office, which adjoins the horse barn. Framed photographs reveal Adie with former presidents, princes, other heads of state, football players, celebrities and captains of industry. If only these walls could talk, I think to myself.
In a sense, true celebrity – the kind born of accomplishment – is in Adie’s DNA. He grew up in St. Louis in a well-known industrial family. His great-grandfather was the founder of Anheuser-Busch Brewing Co., and his father was a former chairman of the board.
In St. Louis, he was part of a family tradition, playing polo at the St. Louis Country Club, the oldest active polo club in America.
“I come from a horse family. Horses have always been a part of my life,” says the 87-year-old.
Childhood summers where spent in Germany on the family farm.
As an adult, he earned an international reputation as an accomplished horseman and formidable polo player while also raising horses in Texas.
His wife’s family founded Pitchfork Ranch near Guthrie, Texas in 1883. With172,000 acres, Pitchfork is among a handful of great American ranches and gave Mamie (the former Marie Williams) the opportunity to develop her equestrian skills.
“We used to have ladies’ races in St. Louis,” he recalls fondly, “and I would always give Mamie one of my horses and she’d always win. She was a beautiful rider.”
The couple’s three grown children were raised on Field View Farm and taught to care for its animals.
“My children were my grooms,” Adie says.
It was that upbringing that instilled in each a great love of horses and a passion for riding. Indeed, once a ranked polo player, son Adie III now lives in Virginia on a 1,600-acre hay farm. Daughter Marie Eugenie Daniel lives with her husband on the 43,000-acre Circle Bar Ranch in Truscott, Texas, where she’s a full-time rancher. Younger daughter Vicky Skouras lives in Greenwich and continues to help her dad with his horses. Vicky is chairman of the Greenwich Riding and Trails Association and a volunteer at Pegasus, which offers equine-assisted activities and therapies to more than 225 children and adults with physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities.
A passion for horses extends well beyond the immediate family.
“Many of my cousins still compete in polo and jumping today.”
Adie’s cousin Peter Orthwein plays high-goal polo against Peter Brandt at the Greenwich Polo Club, which the two run.
According to Adie, Brandt has done more for Greenwich than anyone.
“I think he created Camelot in Greenwich. The way he built the polo at Conyers Farms with its 10-acre lots, he brought the best polo in America to Greenwich.”
He pauses for a moment, and with great admiration says, “We’re very lucky to have a man like Peter Brandt in Greenwich.”
This says a lot coming from a man who was once governor of the United States Polo Association and chairman of the Northeast Circuit.
The equine enthusiast is also a past president and chairman emeritus of the Greenwich Riding and Trails Association, a nonprofit founded in 1914 to preserve and maintain open space and the riding trails, as well as to foster horsemanship in Greenwich.
These days Adie enjoys riding horses from time to time, but finds more pleasure in watching polo matches and caring for his animals.
“The polo today is so much better. Back in the day, we used to play family low-goal polo where we played with my brother and our sons. Today, it’s more professional.”
Twice a year, a bus loaded with children from the Boys and Girls Club of Greenwich comes to the farm to visit Adie and his animals.
“The children love coming here and I always look forward to their visit.”
A 31-year member and trustee for the club, Adie established a scholarship for anyone interested in becoming a veterinarian.
Not surprisingly, this year the Greenwich Rotary Club has chosen Adie as Citizen of The Year and will honor him with a dinner May 17 at the Round Hill Club for his outstanding service to the community, including the Boys & Girls Club and the Greenwich Riding and Trails Association.
A few days after our interview, he invites me back to his farm with my kids to show us the colt born just hours after our interview. The site of the newborn colt trotting around on his not-yet-stable legs with his mother by his side was nothing short of magical.
“You don’t see this every day, and it really is something. That’s why I wanted you to come see it,” he says.
Always the charmer, Adie tells me he will name the colt Wag in honor of our interview.
“Well in that case,” I jokingly tell him, “we’ll have to put him on the cover.”