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If She Could See Us Now

Northfield Nellie

In the early 1900’s women’s rights were, what some would argue, nonexistent. We weren’t allowed to vote, we weren’t allowed to open up a bank account or apply for a loan, we weren’t allowed to work certain jobs and we didn’t have the right to equal pay. Women were hardly considered ‘persons’.

Fast forward to our current day and age, and statistically, women in Canada are now more educated than men. Women commonly work in law enforcement, over 80% of women work outside of the home and Canada has even had a woman prime minister.

Although women’s rights are not yet where some would say they need to be, we wouldn’t be where we are now if it wasn’t for an empowering, influential and downright awesome gal named Nellie McClung.

Nellie McClung was a teacher, a writer, a politician, and an activist for women’s rights. She fought for women to have the right to vote, which she succeeded in doing when Manitoba began the trend by passing the law in 1911. And thanks to her petitions and dedication, women were finally considered as ‘persons’ in 1929. One year later, women were allowed to hold political office.

However, let’s take this story back a step in the sense that before Nellie McClung married Wesley McClung, and before she completely paved the way for women’s rights, she was born as Nellie Letitia Mooney - Mooney being a very important name in the harness racing ranks of Western Canada, and also the last name of honourary lifetime member of Manitoba racing, Dave Mooney.

Dave Mooney and Northfield Nellie at Fraser Downs

Dave Mooney, a resident of Wawanesa, Manitoba is the great nephew of Nellie McClung, he is also a third generation horseman who has been involved in the breeding business throughout Western Canada for over 50 years. To add to his lavish resume, Dave has been the track announcer of the Manitoba Great Western Circuit and is celebrating his 50th year in doing so. Dave is also the breeder of Northfield Nellie, a four-year-old mare who back in May won the Mares Open pace at Century Downs.

The ‘Nellie’ in Northfield Nellie is named after Nellie McClung, and the ‘Northfield’ comes from a one-room country school called Northfield School, where Nellie McClung went to school and eventually taught - the same school where Dave himself went years later.

So what makes Northfield Nellie so unique other than her name? How about the fact that she was accidentally bred when she was only 12 months old, and gave birth to a colt before she even turned two!

Northfield Nellie (L) and her 2017 foal Kernel Kelly

“We didn’t know she was in foal until she was already broke and training. We had sent her to Kelly Hoerdt in Edmonton and one of his grooms thought she was looking a little too fat,” Dave says with a chuckle. So Kelly contacted Dave about the assumption of Nellie being in foal and sure enough, she was. “I didn’t think it was possible, but anyway, I told Kelly to get her checked, so he did and the vet said she was having a foal. So I said to Kelly ‘well, send her home’” So Nellie made her way back to Wawanesa.

But who was the other culprit in this act of reproduction?

Turns out it was Youshouldseemenow, a Matts Scooter stallion who only made $17,063 and took a record of 1:57.2 over Fraser Downs. “They were just pasture buddies. I was starting to use him on a couple mares of mine and I didn’t really think anything of it because of how young she [Northfield Nellie] was.”

And so, in the early morning hours of May 10, 2017, Nellie gave birth to a healthy colt. “I went out around six o’clock in the morning to check the mares and there he was. She did it all unassisted,” says Dave. So, a filly two weeks short of turning two-years-old, delivered her first foal, with no help whatsoever. Sounds like the gritty and determined attributes of Nellie McClung.

“Nellie was a big mare to start with, and even after her foal she never quit growing. So when she was done her maternity leave and her colt was weaned it was time to go back to work,” the proud owner and breeder beamed.

Nellie was shipped back to Edmonton to resume her training with Kelly Hoerdt, and although she missed all of her stake engagements, Northfield Nellie made her racing debut at Century Downs on June 25th of 2018, where she won her first lifetime start in 2:01.3 at the odds of 14/1. In her first 12 months on the track, Nellie has won 13 races with nine second-place finishes and two thirds, from 40 starts, and has bankrolled $63,333, with a speed badge of 1:54.

“She’s just a real nice, big, strong mare. She is very competitive and she loves to win,” says Dave. Sounds like Northfield Nellie and Nellie McClung justify again, the same character traits between them. “Her teenage pregnancy didn’t slow her down at all,” he laughs.

Although Dave Mooney no longer owns Nellie after losing ownership of her in a claiming race in April of this year, he still cheers her on whenever she is in to go, and will have the pleasure of cheering on her son Kernel Kelly when he eventually makes his debut. Kernel Kelly, now two, is currently in training with Clayton Braybrook in Saskatchewan, and is still owned by Dave Mooney.

If Nellie McClung could see where women’s rights are today, I’m sure she would be proud of how far we have progressed. I’m also sure that with that driven-to-win, passionate, colonel-like attitude, she would also tell us to keep working hard and to never give up. I also think she’d be proud of her strong-willed namesake, Northfield Nellie.

This feature by Rachel Oenema originally appeared in the Just Grazing section of the July issue of TROT Magazine.
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