Nellie and Winston

Nellie and Winston remind us that even the most humble of these magnificent creatures deserve a place in our hearts.

June 16, 2015 | | Back Issues

The Story Behind the Poem

Like the two noble beasts who inspired it, the poem “Nellie and Winston” has a few miles on it. It started as a fictionalized tribute to two horses that retired forestry professor and poet Paul Aird knew and loved during his childhood. Nellie was a working horse on his family’s farm in Hudson Heights, Quebec. She had gone blind while working in a mine. Her owner had given her to Paul’s father for a working retirement.

Winston had been a bakery delivery horse in Montreal and, after he developed a limp, the bakery owner gave him and his harness to Aird’s father in the hope that fields would be better underfoot than city pavement. Indeed, Winston recovered from his limp and took up his duties as a fine workhorse, just as Nellie had done before him.

Although Winston didn’t arrive on the farm until years after she had died, Nellie did have a thoughtful companion horse who would nudge her away from barbed wire and toward a drink in the stream. Those images stayed with Aird.

After a chance encounter with two other old white horses – when Aird took the photo that local artist Jane Fellowes interpreted for these pages – he wrote an emotional ode to his old friends Nellie and Winston, making them contemporaries and adding a dramatic narrow escape from the slaughterhouse.

The poem was consigned to a drawer until another chance encounter, this time with the music of equine loving singer-songwriter Marie-Lynn Hammond. After hearing a song of hers on the radio, he offered up his poem as fodder. Hammond added a chorus and a tear-inducing coda, calling the song “Two Old White Horses.” It was first recorded in 2007.

As the flashy stars of the equine world gather in Headwaters for the Pan Am Games next month, Nellie and Winston remind us that even the most humble of these magnificent creatures deserve a place in our hearts.

Nellie and Winston,  By Paul Aird

Nellie had worked all
her life in a mine
pulling the coal carts
in shaft number nine
day after day she
leaned into her load
pulling the carts on
a black iron road
never a pasture
nor brook did she see
just railways, bright lights
and never let free
many years later
poor Nellie they find
willing to work even
though she was blind

Winston had worked all
his life in a town
pulling the bread carts
up hill and then down
day after day he
leaned into his load
pulling the carts on
a cobblestone road
never a pasture
nor brook did he see
just rough roads, steep hills
and never let free
many years later
the cobbles they blame
Winston was stumbling
because he was lame

Two proud white horses were auctioned for sale
one a blind female and one a lame male
bidders were few and just butchers by trade
each horse stood still, then the male turned and neighed
they were alert with ears up and heads high
a lovely pair and I wanted to buy
just fit for horsemeat? I threw up my arm
Nellie and Winston now live on our farm
These two, a blind horse and one partly lame
are a well-matched team, the finest I claim
though they pull heavy loads over rough hauls
she is so steady that he never falls
though they pass close to deep holes and sharp rock
he leads the way, she is safe, trot or walk
she helps him to stand, he helps her to see
Nellie and Winston, together and free

Two Old White Horses, by Marie-Lynn Hammond

Nellie and Winston, by Jane Fellowes.

Nellie and Winston, by Jane Fellowes.

About the Author More by Paul Aird


1 Comment

  1. Such a beautiful story. Paul being the very talented man he is.
    Left a tear on my cheek!! Well done neighbour. The song could have been more upbeat
    None-the-less 10/10 for local talent.

    Sandy/Bernard from Alton on Jul 2, 2015 at 5:20 pm | Reply

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