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McNeill's Celebrate A Lifetime With Walking Horses



 

by Ann Bullard

Love affairs can be fleeting – or last a lifetime. In the case of Beverly and G.L. McNeill of Andalusia, Ala., their personal love has grown through 62 years of marriage. His love of horses has lasted even longer. Although Beverly supported her husband and children’s love of horses, she only recently developed a passion for them that equals his.
Grady “Mac” McNeill had little formal education. After finishing a stint in the U.S. Navy, he returned to the small South Alabama city to help his uncle install septic tanks. Not long after he married, he and Beverly formed G.L. McNeill, Inc., initially manufacturing and installing septic systems. Through the years, the business has grown to include ready mix, cement equipment, septic system and other concrete products.
“Daddy started out with a pick and shovel. Now we employ 35 to 50 people and run a fleet of 35 to 45 trucks,” Shirley said.
“The early years were extremely rough,” Beverly said quietly. “We didn’t do any of the things young people do today. We stayed home, took care of our money and put it back into the business.”
In the early years, Beverly ran what she calls “a small office, nothing like the one we have today. I could run the yard if I had to. He was either in the plant or on the road. It was a dawn to dusk kind of job.”
McNeill’s being on the road paid off – big time. The company moved into ready-mix concrete, pouring many of the bridges that lead into Andalusia.
“Ours is an example of what hard work and blessings could do. Today, a person may not be able to do that. There are too many things against small business now,” Beverly said.
The couple raised their two children with the values they learned as a child. Danny, the eldest, died of cancer four years ago. Their daughter, Shirley, has taken over management of the company’s Andalusia office. Danny’s older son, Chris, runs the Florala, Ala., operation; his younger son, Lance, works with his aunt at the home office.
“Father was very strict on both my brother and me, although more on me because I was a girl,” Shirley said. “He taught us to appreciate nature and to work. Back then, I thought he was so old-fashioned. Now I understand way.
“Dad worked a lot when we were kids and Mother was the homemaker,” she continued, pointing out that her mother ‘officially’ retired from the company in 1963. “She was always involved in everything we did as kids. There always was a group of us at our house; our friends loved Mother and Dad both. When we went to the beach, Mother always had to be a chaperone. I wondered ‘why me,’ not someone else’s mother. Now I appreciate it.
“As long as I can remember, Daddy always had a horse,” Shirley said. “When my brother and I began to get to the age we could ride, Daddy bought each of us a horse and taught us to ride. He encouraged us to show; we were at a one-night show almost every weekend.”
In the early years, McNeill and a friend trained and cared for the family horses. The children helped groom their mounts and prepare horses and tack for local shows.
“When the children were younger, it seemed we always were getting ready to go to a show. We got in late and getting up for church the next morning was a struggle. Still, I wouldn’t take anything for it,” Beverly said.
She describes Danny’s horse, Smokey, as more a speed racking horse than a true walking horse.  “The afternoon before we went to a show in Evergreen, Danny really shined his saddle. The judge said reverse. He did and went out of the saddle, landing on the ground. Everybody laughed, but that didn’t stop him. He got up, back on and went again,” she said, laughing at the memory of her son’s ‘over-polishing’ his tack.
“At that time in Mother’s life, she was so afraid of a horse it was unreal. She wouldn’t have anything to do with them,” Shirley said.
When McNeill trained his horses at home, each of the children had responsibilities. To them, each horse was (and is) like a child with its own personality. McNeill had a way of emphasizing his children’s responsibilities toward their four-legged charges.
“I remember one time my brother did not water the horses like he was supposed to do,” Shirley said. “Instead of Daddy whipping him, like I thought he was going to, he took his glass of tea away from him at dinner. He told my brother, ‘you have two arms and two legs. You can go to a water hydrant any time you want to. Horses have to depend on us for food and water.
“We had ham and biscuits that night and the ham was real salty,” she continued. “Daddy made Danny go for two hours without drinking anything. We never had to worry about Danny’s not watering horses again.”
In the mid-1970s, McNeill elected to retire, turning his business over to his children. Initially, the couple traveled quite a lot. His dream had been to raise walking horses after he retired. When McNeill went to Tennessee to buy what Beverly calls “a nice horse,” those interests took first place.
“He told me, ‘I’ll make a deal with you. If you will learn to enjoy some of the things I enjoy, I’ll learn to do some things you enjoy,’” Beverly said. “Right off, I thought he was talking about traveling. That wasn’t it. Once he got me enjoying horses, he forgot about traveling.”
Two trips do stand out in Beverly’s mind. She had dreamed of seeing Alaska. They enjoyed the inland cruise and land tours. She has a special reminder of their trip to Australia and New Zealand. They were traveling with their Baptist minister and his wife.
She picked up the story of her husband’s surprise. “He bought me a beautiful opal, about the size of a quarter. I was just beside myself when he gave that to me. The three of them went shopping. When he came back he told me, ‘Look what I bought for you.’”
She admits to crying a few tears.
Still, much of the family travel was to one night and then larger horse shows. Danny teased his mother about her acceptance of the horses.
“He’d say, ‘Mother I never thought I would see you enjoy a horse show.’ Every time I’d go and one of our horses won, he’d shake his head and say, ‘Oh, Mother, I just can’t believe it.’”
During the 1980s, the McNeills decided to step more deeply in the walking horse business. They called on E.C. Moody of Hidden Valley Stables in Hanceville, Ala., to help make the transition.
“They bought their first show horse up here,” the now-retired trainer said.
He recalls the McNeills as “just ordinary people who loved the horses.”
In addition to breeding and owning show horses, the McNeills strongly supported the Alabama Jubilee Horse Show.
Approximately 12 years ago, the family made the move to Tex and Tim Smith, then in Ardmore, Ala.
“They had been to Tennessee to buy a mare and met Tex and [his wife] Joan,” Shirley recalled. “They took a horse or two to him when Tim was working with his father. After Tim and Sarah met, Tim left and moved to Lewisburg. Tex realized he didn’t want to continue alone and retired. Since then, Tim has been their trainer.”
“Beverly didn’t know if she wanted show horses; she liked the mares and babies at the house,” Tim said. “That’s turned into more and more each year. She just loves these things.”
‘Home’ is a 366-acre farm, with a 10-stall barn and four-acre fish pond on Andalusia’s Southern Bypass. The McNeills began a collection of broodmares, turning them over until the band represented the bloodlines they want. They own the stallion, Pusher’s Pzazz M.H., and have several show horses by him. One of his daughters is due to produce a foal by Jose Jose this year.
“Mrs. Mac knew they were not getting anywhere with old mares they had. We bought some show mares, took them out of training and bred them,” Tex Smith said. “She bought a package from Waterfall Farms. We’re going to breed to every stallion there this spring.”
Mozambique, the 2001 Four-Year-Old Mares and Geldings Owner/Amateur Specialty World Champion, is the best known to the public. Her dam, Senator’s Top Secret, Showboat Annie and RWC Groovy Chic are among the others who share the pastures with her daughter.
Shirley had gotten away from riding when she entered college. After her daughter, Amanda’s, birth and husband’s death, she found the farm a welcome stress-reliever and respite from day-to-day cares.
“I go over after work and spend time brushing and grooming the horses,” she said. “It’s very relaxing for me.”
At almost 85 years of age, G.L. McNeill has lost some of the spring in his step and has slowed down mentally. Although he no longer appreciates a horse show as much as in the past, the horses are one thing that help keep him going.
“My father has a love for animals and they love him,” Shirley said. “In the spring, we put the mares and foals in the pastures. He has to go out every day to pet and rub every one of them. They are like a bunch of children, nudging him on the back and under his arm.  It’s as if they’re asking which one he is going to pet first.”
Beverly is a little more active and more hands-on at the farm. One of her favorite chores is checking the barn most nights. She recalled the night Mozambique’s filly by the Specialist was born prematurely.
“Tex was supposed to be here, but the foal came three weeks early,” she said. “It was born about 7 p.m. and I just happened to go to the barn and find it about 2 a.m. We had to get that baby to nurse. It was her first colt. Mozambique knew she had something, but I don’t think she knew what it was. Every time the colt touched her, she would squeal. She would squeal and I would jump.”
Shirley added to the story. “Here Mother and I were out in barn at 11:30 or 12 o’clock with Mother in nylon pjs and me in a long gown. We were in the stall trying to get this baby to nurse. If anyone had come up and seen us, they would have been sending us off to [the mental hospital at] Tuscaloosa.”
Now, when Tex isn’t on the property, Beverly does a barn check every night.
She was also instrumental in resurrecting the Andalusia Horse Show. On March 9 and 10, the South Alabama Walking and Racking Horse Show will return to the town’s Covington Arena.
“Dr. Ray Evers owned the Andalusia Saddle and Bridle Club. They sponsored a show here for years. After he passed away, the show faded out. It had been 42 years since they had a show in Covington County,” Beverly said, pointing out that this will be the third annual show. “We had 308 entries in our very first show.”
For Tim and Sarah Smith, the McNeills are more family than clients.
“They’re like my grandparents. They are better to me than I could ever imagine any customers might be,” Tim Smith said, pointing out they are his daughter, Abby’s, godparents. “They love to see me show their horses. They wanted to make sure I made it [in this business,] and they didn’t care what it took.”
Smith says the McNeills like to get loud in cheering for their horses. And they truly enjoy the fellowship with other customers in the barn.
They had a lot to cheer about last year. Their homebred Pzazz’s Mark won a reserve world championship in the Park Performance Four-Years-and-Under class with Robbie Black in the irons. She’s Sweet And Sassie earned a reserve world championship in the Three-Year-Old Mare competition. Rainbow Of Colors and Titanium Touch had successful seasons.
Beverly spoke of her husband’s awareness of the farm’s successes. “When She’s Sweet And Sassie won the reserve world championship, he wasn’t able to enjoy it as much as I was. But he did realize what happened. It’s terrible; I think if he could, he would enjoy the shows.”
Tex Smith comes to Andalusia to be there when the foals are born. “Mrs. Mac lives right there on the farm and she still takes care of business. She gets a gleam in her eyes when the colts are born. They live right there on the farm and no one loves the horses better than she does. She didn’t even like them at first. And I’ve never seen Mrs. Mac so happy as when Sassie won the reserve world championship.”
With McNeill unable to carry on as before, Beverly’s role is more important than ever. Family and horses come first. However, she rarely misses a chance to pull a bass or other fish from their farm pond. Several nice ones are mounted on walls at their home.
“Mother is a very easy-going person who never says anything bad about anybody,” Shirley said. “Her philosophy is to always do what’s right and you never have anything to be sorry for. She’s very neat and well-organized. She’s 82-years-old and you still could eat off her floors.
“Father was very, very encouraging. He is a very loving man but can be a stern person as well. He is very strict in his beliefs. He always believed that a man’s word was his bond; if your word weren’t any good, then you weren’t any good,” she said.
God, their family, friends and horses: those values keep the McNeill family focused. As she looked forward, Shirley also took a glance backward at how the walking horses have affected her family.
“I think the first real walking horse I ever saw was at the [old] Montgomery horse show in Garrett Coliseum. I was literally fascinated. This business is such a family deal. It teaches children responsibility. You have that togetherness; the kids aren’t off in one place and the parents in another.
“That’s what I focus on with the horses and my family. And most of all I focus on the love we have for one another.”

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