Name: Shelby Ann
Type: Belgian Draft Mule
Color: Flaxen Chestnut
Shelby Ann is a huge Belgian Draft Molly Mule. Her story is riches to rags to riches again. It will make you sad, and angry, grateful and happy, all at once. She is the most magnificent being we’ve ever encountered, and all who meet her are captivated by her magic.
Shelby Ann was owned by an elderly farmer and his wife. Sadly, they lost their farm to bankruptcy and their possessions, including Shelby Ann, whom they had owned and oved forever, had to be auctioned off. She was their working mule and her owner had plowed many fields with her over the years. You can see the white hairs where her harness rubbed her withers and a few small scars around her mouth from a bit rubbing there. She was auctioned at a local sale barn in Oklahoma frequented by the meat men; kill buyers looking to make a quick buck off of the unlucky equines that fall into their grasp. Shelby Ann’s luck was bad – she was purchased by one of the most notorious kill buyers in the country. The elderly owners who had attended the auction were devastated. However – a hero stepped in. A young man sitting next to them saw their distress, listened to their story, and contacted the Circle of Friends Rescue Group in Oklahoma, a group of ladies who save equines, but do not have a farm. They knew the kill buyer, though, and persuaded him to let them buy Shelby Ann back. But then…where would she go?
That’s where Red Bell Run came in. Shelby Ann would come to the Sanctuary. She went to the Florida facility where Red Bell Run first started. When Shelby Ann arrived, she seemed to be in shock. Her entire world had been torn apart. She was in a strange place with strange people, and the worried look in her eyes told the story of her profound sadness and confusion. It took almost a year of love and caring and reassurance before that look faded from her beautiful brown eyes. Shelby Ann shares the deep, soulful eye of the whale…dark, bottomless, wise and knowing. You can read her life story in them. If you’re quite and be still, she will envelope you in that wisdom. It is a feeling she has shared with countless visitors now, and people feel peace in her presence. It is as though she takes your troubles and soothes them away.
We always thought of Shelby Ann as special, but in Florida, on a hot, humid summer day, we found out just how special she was. A distraught mother called. She had an autistic child, a young girl who was non-verbal. She wanted to know if they could come to the farm and see the horses. Of course, we said yes. That is the first time we realized exactly how special Shelby Ann’s magic was. This gentle giant carefully lowered her head, and the young girl simply put her arms around Shelby Ann and they stood there. Just stood there for an hour or more…it seemed like forever and we all wished it could be forever. None of us approached. We just watched the magic happen.
Later, the mother called. Her daughter had remained calm all day, something that was a struggle most times, and that evening had even made a few sounds – the first in many months. When you see something like this, you can no longer deny that equines have a deeper connection to humans, especially ones in distress or who have special needs that we are unable to understand. Today, in the Hilltop Barn at the Sanctuary’s North Carolina farm, Shelby Ann is a favorite among the visitors. Some come to see Shelby Ann specifically. Her face is whiter now and she occasionally scares us with a minor health issue, but so far has recovered well. Recently, we realized that the years of pulling a plow have caused some arthritis that she needs a little help with. She and her friend Emmie, a beautiful red molly mule who is her best friend, along with their smaller sidekick, Penelope, a Haflinger cross pony, now laze their days away, sunning in their “sandbox” of river sand, being groomed and cossetted as they deserve, and greeting visitors.
When people come into her paddock Shelby Ann lowers that great head of hers (it’s the size of half the human body) and politely asks for her ears to be scratched. She seems to know, somehow, the people who come with troubles. How she knows, why this happens, we don’t know. It is one of the great mysteries – and great blessings – of this life. Equines are a gift; they don’t judge. They mirror our emotions and let us see our true selves and, in Shelby Ann’s case, it is as though she gives some form of absolution, understanding and ultimately a gentle peace to those who need it. People often just stand there quietly, touching her, and our Shelby Ann, the Queen of Red Bell Run, gently surrounds them with her magic.