IS IT TRUE blonds have more fun?
As a gray-haired brunette I don’t have expertise in that area, but I can tell you Fox-Bell Farm & Training owner Shelby Vaughan is a fun, lively and hard-working blond who’s given the former Olympic View Stables a new look and an exciting new vibe.
Originally from Whidbey Island, Vaughan started leasing the Olympic View Stables, at 136 Finn Hall Road in Agnew, four years ago after its owner, retired Port Angeles veterinarian Bob Mowbray, closed it down.
For a great many years the stables, with its indoor and large outdoor arena, hosted shows for every local horse organization and discipline.
I’d taken my niece to a few of the horse shows there from 2002-05.
I love what’s she’s done with the place.
She’s spruced it up by replacing damaged wood and adding paddocks to most of the existed box stalls (I always detested seeing horses locked up in those dark, enclosed box stalls. I think it drove them crazy).
The barn and indoor arena look beautiful with red sidings, white trim and cedar shake accents.
Vaughan put up some beautiful signage with the Fox-Bell logo and added sand, gravel and wood chips to make the area mud free even when it rains.
It was a cold, blustery afternoon last week about 2 p.m. when I joined Vaughan inside her covered arena.
The place was relativity quiet with two gals quietly grooming horses in the aisle while Vaughan neared the end of a training session with adult student Victoria Auldridge.
Her own horse, a rescue, showed signs of lameness and a sore back.
After some back and forth discussion they decided to give the horse a few days rest in hopes she’ll feel better.
I like how she didn’t just tell the rider “Hey, your horse is sore you need to give her a few days off” but instead she included the rider in the decision-making process, which helped Auldridge to think, reason and learn.
Soon, Vaughan said, the place was going to be bustling with activity as kids start arriving after school for their group and private lessons.
“After 3 p.m. this place is a mad house,” Vaughan said. “The school bus will stop out front and I’ll be counting kid, kid, kid as they step off the bus one after the other.”
Within minutes driveways and parking spots will be filled with parents dropping off and then later picking up their children.
The hustle and bustle doesn’t slow down, Vaughan said “until about 7 p.m.”
Her adult students and horse training usually takes place earlier in the day.
The two gals grooming horses turned out to be her assistants Chloe McGee and Faith Haggie.
They help the children and horses get ready, assist with riding lessons and horse training, and really help keep things running smoothly, not an easy task considering there’s 30 to 40 horses always on-site.
Haggie, 18, was a horse-loving youth looking for a way to be with horses.
“At first she was just another kid who wanted to work in exchange for lessons,” said Vaughan, agreeing to try her out.
Vaughan discovered the girl came from a troubled background, and once she saw her dedication to horses she took Haggie under her wing.
“Now she’s doing well and is a huge asset,” Vaughan said.
While she relishes her time training and giving lessons Vaughan said her overall focus is on horse rescue, a passion she shares with her mother, Martha Vaughan.
Vaughan is known among local horse rescue operations as one who will take in so called end-of-the-line horses — those rescued that were placed in homes and then returned more than once after a well-meaning person lacked the experience needed to take on a horse with issues.
Instead of taking the time, resources and energy needed to work through those problems people gave up and returned the horse.
To her, the majority of those horses have man-made problems and are just in need of a confident and competent trainer to help them overcome those issues.
Vaughan started working with rescue horses when she lived on Whidbey Island before moving over to Sequim a few years back.
“We’re privately funded, not a 501(c)(3). We’ve always done this independently out of our own pockets. All my dogs, horses and lesson horses are rescue horses, including my Grand Prix event horse,” Vaughan said.
The Grand Prix is the highest level of show jumping under the International Federation for Equestrian Sports.
The Vaughans recently opened Fox-Bell Weddings, a wedding and celebrations venue off North Bar Road.
I got to tour their beautiful facility when they generously donated its use to an Olympic Peninsula Equine Network (OPEN) fundraising event. Proceeds from Fox-Bell Weddings help fund their rescue work.
Caring well for the horses is a top priority for Vaughan. She works closely with other equine professionals, including bringing reps for Purina horse feed there.
“They work really closely with our horse’s nutrition,” she said. “We also work regularly with Leitz Farms to get good hay.
“Leitz works with us to test our hay because we are very particular about the hay we feed our horses.”
Other members of her horse wellness team include Stanwood-based chiropractor Todd Gregory and Sarah Owens, a world-renowned veterinarian now based in Issaquah.
It helps that Owens and Vaughan are old friends. They both grew up on Bainbridge Island and competed in eventing with each other.
Pointing to a horse in the arena she said, “Sarah helped changed the life of that horse. She was an off-the-track race horse when I got her. Her years of hard running and too much pressure on her mouth from the bit has hurt her back. She now has vertebrae that overlap, known as kissing spine. Thanks to the work of Sarah and Todd she’s actually rideable and can now jump at upper levels.”
Chex is fairly new to the farm. Vaughan was asked to take him on after he’d been returned to a rescue operation for the fourth time.
“He kept being returned. He’s a very smart quarter horse who kept outsmarting his owners,” she said. “He’s quick-footed and spooks, which scared people so they kept returning him.”
Right away she could tell he had a lot of what she called “man-made” issues.
He was always very tense. He’d shy or run away from the mounting block and was very disrespectful to people on the ground.
“But now, two months later, he’s one of our best lesson horses, but still only with a qualified rider,” Vaughan said.
She said coming in Chex’s main issue was he need the security of an alpha, or dominant personality, to trust so he could just be a follower.
“But everyone was afraid of him so he felt he needed to step up and become the alpha, which resulted in bad behavior,” she said.
If you are having issues with your own horse, then I implore you to go to a professional trainer such as Vaughan for at least a few months to help you both work through the issues and to be a leader your horse can trust.
It’s a win-win situation for both of you.
It’s the same if you chose to take on a rescue horse yourself.
And before trying out any horse to purchase insist he not be warmed up or ridden until you get there.
If possible arrive early so the owner doesn’t have a chance to prep the horse for your arrival.
Remember guys, it’s the time of the year with powerful storms and power outages.
So keep your water tanks full and clean, along with a good supply of quality feed.
Did you know the No. 1 cause of colic during cold weather is lack of fresh, unfrozen water?
Even if it’s not frozen over some horses dislike really cold water, so don’t drink enough.
If you use a stock tank water heater make sure the horse can’t get to the wire, and the cord is plugged into a ground fault interrupter socket.
The good news is we passed the winter solstice Friday (the shortest day of the year), so our days are starting to last longer — yay!
Karen Griffiths’ column, Peninsula Horseplay, appears the second and fourth Sunday of each month.
If you have a horse event, clinic or seminar you would like listed, please email Griffiths at [email protected] at least two weeks in advance. You can also call her at 360-460-6299.