Martha and Shelby Vaughan are living a shared dream: providing a location for couples to wed and for other events while supporting the animals they rescue from the brink of death.
Fox-Bell Weddings & Events, named after their family’s first rescue dog Fox, and first rescue horse, Bell, has become a busy location for local weddings since opening in 2018.
Martha Vaughan runs the venue while her daughter Shelby Vaughan runs the companion business, Fox-Bell Farms.
“Her dream, and my dream both, was always to move to the peninsula and have a lot of land,” said Shelby, so that the duo could house rescue horses with enough space and resources to rehabilitate them and give each a good quality of life.
In 2012, Martha bought the 20-acre property which became the Fox-Bell events venue at 137 N. Barr Road. In 2016, Shelby was able to buy the 15 acres that became Fox-Bell Farm at 136 Finn Hall Road, where she rehabilitates horses and teaches locals to care for, communicate with, and ride horses.
The Vaughans also own or lease additional acres in the area so that they can rotate the horses to keep them and the land healthy.
“Between her love of the animals and my training with horses, we have been able to make an incredible team,” Shelby said.
“Our dream was to build this venue, and it’s finally here.”
Martha said that Shelby got so busy with the FoxBell training portion they decided to split responsibilities of their partnership.
“It is a dream we have together, and we have our separate wings of the business,” Shelby said. “This dream we had has to be divided.”
Martha said she was collecting items — some as large as old horse carts, a truck, and a massive chandelier — to decorate the property and interiors for years before buying the place and beginning renovation.
Bricks from Seattle’s former Kingdome line the walkway to the main building of the venue, which was a broken-down horse barn before Martha, Shelby, and Brian Pace — Fox-Bell’s main contractor — transformed it into the spacious, well-lit and decorated meeting room that it is today.
“My mother has a very good eye; she can always make things beautiful,” Shelby said. “What better business than a wedding venue?”
Brides and their entourage have an entire small house to relax in; grooms and their assistants have another building with a pool table, bathroom and couches, and guests can roam the property and enjoy the fountain at the pond.
Although the Vaughans have rescued other animals such as goats, dogs, cats, llamas and pigs, much of the Fox-Bell property is devoted to the retirement or recovery of horses that were saved, either by the rescue groups the Vaughans partner with, or by the Vaughans themselves, often at horse auctions.
According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), “the majority of horses sold at auctions attended by HSUS staff were purchased by ‘killer buyers’ who represent or sell to horse slaughterhouses.”
Often these horses end up in the situation without their former owners intending it, through sales or horse giveaways on Craigslist, for instance.
Since the cessation of horse slaughter in the U.S. since 2007 — due to congressional defunding of USDA inspectors for horse slaughterhouses — the horses are transported to slaughterhouses located in Canada and Mexico.
According to Joann Grossman, Equine Program Manager and Senior Advisor at the Animal Welfare Institute, there are “a host of serious welfare problems associated with the horse slaughter industry — from inhumane transport conditions when horses are crammed inside trailers and hauled for long distances without adequate food, water, or rest, to the horrific and brutal nature of the slaughtering process itself as panicked horses thrash their long necks in the kill box, desperately trying to avoid being killed.
“Because of their physiology and strong fight-or-flight reflex, it can be extremely difficult to ensure that a horse has been rendered unconscious prior to slaughter.”
According to the Keith Dane at the Humane Society of the United States, 37,249 were horses exported to Canada and Mexico in 2020, a decrease from 2019, and “thus far in 2021 the number is down by nearly 50%.”
The figures originate with the USDA.
At the slaughterhouses the horses are often turned into food sold for human consumption, often exported to foreign countries for human consumption. According to the American Veterinary Society’s website, “At least 85% of horses slaughtered at European Union–approved Canadian horse slaughterhouses originated in the United States, and 50% of the horse meat produced from those animals was exported to the EU.”
The problem, beyond any moral issues, in eating these horses, said Dane is that, “it also presents a health risk to consumers of horsemeat, because horses in America are administered drugs that are not approved for use in animals consumed by humans and can be toxic to them.”
Many or most of those horses, according to the Vaughans and others, could have had a lot of years left to live if they were not bought for the slaughterhouses.
“Rescuing those horses is a heartbreaking thing,” said Marge Swift, the eldest of the riders at Fox-Bell Farms.
“If you bring them in, give them love and feed them, you have a nice horse to ride.”
Shelby said that at Fox-Bell Farms horses are rehabilitated in a multi-step process, the timing of which depends on the needs of the individual horse.
“The rehab process could be three years or three months, whatever they need.”
She said that first the horses are put to pasture with other horses, where they learn to be a horse. After they adjust, people at the farm begin to handle them.
After a time some horses can be ridden, some can become lease or lesson horses, but, Shelby said, “I keep ownership so they will never become rescues again.”
Some of the horses, Shelby said, have no job, as they physically or emotionally can’t be ridden, and that’s okay: Fox-Bell has a budget for retirement.
“I make sure they stay with us,” she said. “I keep control and give guidance. They have people that love them and care for them.”
Shelby teaches students to brush, clean-up, get ready to ride, and how to handle the saddle and bridle, Swift said, before ever getting on a horse.
Swift, who said she has been riding consistently for 50 years, has enjoyed coming to Fox-Bell since Shelby opened it.
“It is excellent exercise, mental and physical,” Swift said.
“It’s a wonderful cycle here,” said Shelby. “The horses get to work and be loved. They need to be exercised, and they need attention, like dogs.”
She said that horses speak body language, which is something humans have to learn. “I teach how a horse communicates with us.”
Bad communication, she said, “is why horses so often end up as rescues. Someone is not understanding what the horse is trying to say. All it takes is one injury, one bad owner, one mistake and the horse becomes a slaughter horse.”
Often when owners realize they can’t keep a horse for one reason another they will give it away or sell it, little suspecting that their horse may be on the path to the slaughterhouse. (
Meanwhile, Martha and Shelby, like many people in their animal loving community, are doing their best to make a difference on the individual level, one animal at a time.
Martha hopes to donate her venue to events held by non-profits who specialize in animal rescue and to continue to grow the businesses to support the animals. Why a business rather than a non-profit?
Shelby explained that it is the practical nature of her mother: “My mom is a business person. You don’t want to be a rescue that needs to be rescued.”
Shelby added, “We work our tail ends off, we make good plans, we work hard for them, and ultimately the animals have a safe landing place and that was always our dream.”
For more about Fox-Bell Weddings & Events, see fox-bell.com or call 206-954-1667. For more about Fox-Bell Farm, see facebook.com/FoxBellFarm or call/text 206-399-7683.