Columbia's 'Christmas Pony' dies 23 years after State House aban - - Columbia, South Carolina

'Christmas Pony' dies 23 years after State House abandonment

Noel Noel

A horse that was abandoned at South Carolina's State House on Christmas Day in 1990 has died, more than two decades after the city's animal shelter adopted her.

Noel passed away Sunday, according to Columbia Animal Service Superintendent Marli Drum.

She lived out of the public eye for years, but garnered a lot of attention from her caregivers. One of those caretakers, Eloise McMillan, recalls the sad story of how Noel made her way to Columbia.

On December 25, 1990, McMillan had just begun as the Superintendent of Animal Services in Columbia. As she prepared for Christmas dinner, she received an interesting and memorable phone call. On the other line, Capital Police told Eloise that there was a horse at the State House. She dropped everything and immediately rushed there with her daughter.

"This man had tied the horse to the front door of the Capitol and raced away yelling that the horse was a present for President Bush," said McMillan. "This was back when the first President Bush was in office."

At first, the story sounds humorous. However, McMillan says the horse's condition was anything but. "She was emaciated, she was dehydrated, she was exhausted. The rope that was tied around her neck had been there for quite some time because it had started to grow into her neck."

Her hooves were cracked and bloodied, which they later learned was from being ridden more than 30 miles into Columbia before being abandoned.

McMillan took one look at the stone steps leading down from the State House and knew that given the condition of the poor animal there would be no way she could make it back down safely. She and her daughter walked the exhausted horse into the State House, took her down the elevator, and walked her to her home about two miles away in Shandon.

The horse spent Christmas night in McMillan's backyard where she was able to rest for the first time in a long time. Days later, The State newspaper ran the story calling her "Columbia's Christmas horse," prompting several phone calls from others claiming they saw a man riding her into the city on Sumter Highway Christmas Eve.

McMillan says they also received a phone call from a woman saying her son had left his horse at the State House. When McMillan asked her for more information, telling her that they wanted to press charges for animal cruelty and abandonment, the woman hung up and was never heard from again. The shelter kept the horse and named her Noel.

"She just symbolized everything that's wrong with the way so many people take care of animals, so many neglect and abuse them," said McMillan. "She was just such a plucky little survivor, that she just symbolized what we wanted our shelter to become."

After Noel made the newspaper, people were touched and reached out to help. Someone even offered to build a barn at the shelter for her to stay. "We were all excited. We always said we wanted a horse for Christmas and we finally got one," said McMillan.

McMillan worked with the shelter until 2002 when Marli Drum took over the position. Drum was a foster parent to Noel for years and slowly began to ride her again.

In fact, several other barnyard animals now have a place to stay because of Noel.

"She sort of became another dog for me you know a really big one, her learning to trust people again, she already had that with Eloise she already had a good start," said Drum.

On Monday, Drum told WIS of Noel's passing.

"I am sad to report that Noel died yesterday," said Drum "As you know she was quite a loved character out here and is already missed. I called to tell Eloise yesterday and we both agreed that a special era has come to an end but that she represented something special for all animals that will continue on."

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