Goodbye Donna Gail, old friend

Published 6:50 pm Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Around 4 p.m. on July 21, 2009, Donna Gail went to sleep forever.

Her name will not be mentioned in the local obituary and most people won’t even recognize the name as anyone they knew.

But all of those who have ridden Grover Poole’s horse-drawn wagon at the Pioneer Museum of Alabama, enjoyed its presence in parades around the county or sipped cane juice from Poole’s cane mill have been acquainted with the pretty, aminable, white Percheron, Donna Gail.

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Donna Gail was the lead horse for Poole’s wagon for more than 12 years and many people around Pike County have stroked her mane or patted her nose.

Poole had Donna Gail for about 20 years, and it was obvious that she was his favorite “girl.”

But, in the last few months, Donna Gail’s health had deterioated and Poole could no longer stand to see her suffer.

“Donna Gail would get down and couldn’t get back up,” he said. “She weighed over a ton, so I had to get her up with the tractor. It was hard to see her like that. I’d get up during the night and go look out the window to see if she was laying down or not. Every time I went to look I hoped to see her standing.”

On Monday morning, she was down again, and I knew that I had to do what was best for her,” Poole said. “I’ve had to put a horse down before, and it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. And, it was really hard being Donna Gail. We’d been together so long. But it had to be done. So, I called Joe Maddox and told him what we had to do.”

Donna Gail was a registered Percheron and Poole had his eyes on her long before he put the money down for her.

“I got Donna Gail in Chipley, Florida,” Poole said. “A man in Dothan told me about her. She wouldn’t breed and the fellow was ready to sell her. She didn’t look like too much. About the poorest looking horse you ever saw. My wife asked me, ‘What did you buy her for?’ Brenda Peacock said, ‘Mr. Grover, what do want with that horse?’ But I saw something in Donna Gail that I liked, and she turned out to be the best horse I’ve ever had, and she gave me two pretty colts.”

Donna Gail and Maude were a matched pair of Percherons, and they pulled Poole’s wagon for years and gave rides to people of all ages at events at the Pioneer Museum of Alabama.

“I never was afraid for anybody to get around my wagon,” Poole said. “Donna Gail was as good with a wagon as any horse I’ve ever seen. I didn’t worry about being in parades either because I knew how Donna Gail and Maude would work.”

Donna Gail paraded around Pike County and pulled wagons at the museum and she also pulled Poole’s cane mill.

“Donna Gail was good at grinding cane,” Poole said. “She’d stay right where I put her. She pulled the cane mill for a heap of gallons of cane juice. I don’t know what I’ll do this fall without Donna Gail to pull the cane mill. I just don’t know.”

Donna Gail is buried on Poole’s farm in northern Pike County, and he’ll miss his trusted companion every day but life goes on and there are more wagons to ride, more parades to enter and more cane to grind.

Poole is looking back fondly to his days with Donna Gail and expectantly to the days ahead with two American Percheron colts to pull the wagon.

“I’m looking at breaking Donna Bell’s colt, Bell, to pull the wagon,” he said. “Bell and Nell, Maude’s colt, will make a good pair, and they’ll be good with the wagon. People get a lot of enjoyment out of riding the wagon, and I enjoy being in the parades.”

Poole’s voice trailed off as he thought of the fall and its harvest of cane to grind. That’s when he’ll miss the old girl the most. That’s when just the two of them were often at the mill grinding cane to share the taste of fall with friends and neighbors.

“But Donna Gail is better off today than she was Tuesday morning, but I sure do miss her,” Poole said. “I sure do miss her.”