Block House honors the Mahler family

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, April 7, 2016

Ernst, Polly and Pete Mahler at Harmon Field in the late 1930s.

Ernst, Polly and Pete Mahler at Harmon Field in the late 1930s.

Tryon Riding & Hunt Club is proud to present the 2016 Block House Steeplechase in honor of the Ernst Mahler family of Tryon. The historic 70th running of the Block House will take place at FENCE on Saturday, May 7.

Patriarch Ernst Mahler was an Austrian industrial chemist who immigrated to the United States in 1914 to work for Kimberly-Clark Corporation in Neenah, Wisc. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1917 and married Carol Lyon of Minneapolis in 1918; they had two children, Pauline (Polly) and Ernst Jr. (Pete).

Having first gotten involved with horses in the Austrian Cavalry, Ernst became a lifelong equestrian, a pursuit shared by Carol, Pete and Polly on their farm in Neenah. The family first visited Tryon in 1935 when they stayed with J.C. Kimberly on their way home from Florida. During that short stay Ernst bought 140 acres in Hunting Country, which became the start of the family’s Chinquapin Farm.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The Mahlers were involved in all areas of horse sport in Tryon: foxhunting, showing, pleasure riding and driving, and raising horses. Pete and Polly showed the family’s horses, with Pete qualifying for the Maclay Medal, and three Mahler horses going to the US Equestrian Team.

Ernst was also a leader in the area’s equestrian ventures, including Tryon Hounds, where he was Joint Master of Foxhounds; the Olympic team trials at Cotton Patch; and the many events of TR&HC, including its biggest, the annual Block House Steeplechase.

The Mahler family’s contributions continued after Ernst’s death in 1967, with their most significant coming in the early 1980s. It had become clear that the steeplechase could lose its original venue after more than 30 years, with the sale of the Block House property. TR&HC took on the goal of finding a permanent home for the steeplechase and their other events. Not having much money for the project, the group considered who might be willing to donate land, and asked Pete if he would discuss the idea with his mother.

The Mahler family ended up donating the first 117 acres that would ultimately become the Foothills Equestrian Nature Center. Since that first gift, the family and others have added to the property so that it now encompasses 384 acres.

With their original gift, the Mahlers included stipulations that made FENCE much more than a venue for horse sports.

“The idea was that it should become a place of nature that anyone in the community could call home,” Pete says today, “a place where they could ride their horses, explore nature trails, walk their dogs, and learn about nature.” Some of the stipulations included that FENCE be a 501c3 charitable organization; that it include a nature side to educate children both at FENCE and in schools; that it offer summer camps and ongoing educational and entertainment programs; and that the land be protected in perpetuity, never to be developed.

FENCE hosted the Block House for the first time in 1988. Without the Mahler family’s original gift and continued support, the steeplechase might have ended decades ago. More importantly, the community would never have known the gem that FENCE has become, a permanent green space that will continue to enrich people’s lives in so many ways, forever.

– Submitted by the Tryon Riding & Hunt Club