Dick and Gunner

by Dawn Hembling from Ajax, ON

I was born on a farm in the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia and my father's parents shared their home with us. Their other son, my uncle Robbie, owned a similar property a short distance down the road. Since there was little money to buy farm equipment the two brothers shared everything. Not only did they share implements and machinery, but eventually they each contributed a horse to the team required to perform heavy farm tasks around the two farm and woodlots.  

As my grandfather was getting on in years my father took over the farm. Grandfather had a carriage horse named Dick. 

In his youth Dick had been a race horse pacer, so in his new career he was more suited to pulling the riding wagon or passenger sleigh, than to be hitched to a wagon tongue with a draught horse on the other side. When Dick saw an open road he had only had one thought: ''Run.”

Down at the other farm, my Uncle had Queenie and Gunner, a well-matched horse team. When Queenie died, Gunner needed a team mate. So out of necessity Dick was put into a work harness. 

The life of the speedster was about to change.

Gunner was a sturdy-legged strength Canadian prairie boy. Because of his size and strength he had previously worked as a draught horse in a logging camp. When my uncle returned home from the First World War he bought Gunner to work on his farm.  

Those who served as teamster to the mismatched pair had to work hard to keep Dick in check. As a small girl, I recall standing in my grandmother' s bedroom on the first floor watching the horses  
passing, as they hauled hay, apples, firewood, logs, pit props, and whatever loads they were asked to pull. Somehow I sensed Dick's impatience at his plight. 

No one knows what my uncle's designation was in the army but I assumed he had been a gunner, and that was the origin of his horse's name. However, my brother Ernie recently told me that originally Gunner had been trained by the military to pull field guns. The war ended and he escaped being shipped overseas to the horrors of France. His work in1ogging camps in harsh conditions paled beside the life he would have experienced pulling heavy artillery in the muddy and bloody baftefields. The horse soldier now had much gentler battles to fight. One was the red Annapolis Valley clay that stuck to his hooves like glue when it rained, and the other was teaching Dick the dancer to pull.