Hitched up: The Kembels and their team of haflinger mares have been a part of happy and sad occasions

Sunday, July 25, 2010
Bob Kembel and his wife, Debie, sit in their wagon pulled by haflinger mares Molly, left, and Katie on July 17 at Caney Fork Baptist Church in Oak Ridge. The couple delivered bride Nikki Wilson to the church for her wedding. (CHRIS MACKLER)

The first time Bob and Debie Kembel used their horses and wagon for a ceremony, they carried Debie Kembel's mother to her final resting place in 2009. This year, the couple pulled their two halfinger mares, Molly and Kate, out for a much happier occasion -- a wedding.

Five years ago, Bob and Debie Kembel lived and worked in Cape Girardeau. Upon Bob Kembel's decision to retire, Debbie decided they should move to the country. Bob Kembel was reluctant, but she was relentless.

"She didn't want to be a golf widow, so I had to have something to do," he said.

Now the Kembels live in a quaint home on 20 acres in Oak Ridge and bought horses.

"We are like the people in 'Green Acres,'" Bob Kembel said. "My parents bought a horse for us when I was a kid, but I didn't really know anything about horses."

Bob Kembel drives bride Nikki Wilson and some of her wedding party to Caney Fork Baptist Church.

Their neighbor, Wayne Stroder, would ride by driving a wagon every day. The Kembels would wait for him to pass, so they could admire the wagon and horses. It wasn't long until they were acquainted with Stroder and had become wagon owners themselves.

They tried to use Sapphire, a horse they already owned, to pull the wagon, but her temperament wasn't suited to it.

"Sapphire would buck and carry on," Bob Kembel said.

The couple then bought a Belgium horse named Ellie. A neighbor suggested the Kembels buy a partner for Ellie, so Daisy joined the herd. The size of the Belgiums was too much for the couple, so they bought their prized pair of haflingers, Molly and Kate.

"When we first got [the haflingers], they were named Molly and Bob," Bob Kembel said. "I told Debie 'We can't have a girl horse named Bob.'"

The couple named the young haflinger after Bob Kembel's mother, Kate. The Kembels have shown the haflingers in various parades and shows in the area, but Molly and Kate's first notable appearance was at the funeral last year.

"My mother had always wanted to take a wagon ride," Debie Kembel said. "Her health was never good enough for us to take her."

When her mother lost her battle with cancer, the couple decided to give Debie Kembel's mother the ride she had desired. Two of the Kembels' friends, Elden Wilson and Don McGee, drove the horses and wagon, carrying the casket to the cemetery.

"Last year we had an end and this year we had a beginning," Bob Kembel said, referring to the horses' second ceremonial use.

On July 17, the Kembels and their team delivered Nikki Wilson, the daughter of their friends Kim and Eldon Wilson, to her wedding. Along with her father, bridesmaids, flower girl and ring bearer, the bride was taken to Caney Fork Baptist Church for the wedding.

"It was one of the most beautiful weddings I have ever been to," Bob Kembel said.

Along with "the girls," Molly and Kate, the Kembels have other horses, goats, chickens, ducks, house cats, barn cats, dogs and a host of other creatures.

"It is a whole different way of living," Debie Kembel said. "It is a simpler way of life."

The Kembels' latest project is the restoration of an Amish buggy.

"I think we were probably born in the wrong era," Debie Kembel said.

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