Life in Our Foothills May 2024 – Red Bell Run – A Haven and Home to Equines in Need

Published 3:51 pm Thursday, May 9, 2024

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A ride through the Sanctuary at Red Bell Run quickly becomes a roller coaster of emotion for ardent animal lovers and fans of equines in all shapes and sizes. The first emotion to hit is admiration for owner Mary Adams and her team of devoted employees and volunteers. It’s obvious the equines are not the only ones with big hearts roaming the grounds at 385 Blackwood Rd. in Columbus. 

The Sanctuary, a unique creation of Mary Adams, stands out from other 501(c)3 charitable organizations with its mission to provide a haven and care for equines. This one-of-a-kind Sanctuary, a rarity in the country where only a few others exist, offers individualized care to over 150 equines, giving them a home that caters to their breeds and personalities. Animals arrive through animal control seizures or occasionally at the recommendation of a veterinarian.

The second emotion to hit is awe at the land’s beauty and infrastructure, constructed and meticulously maintained for such a noble purpose. The Sanctuary is built upon a 200-acre property with a 40-acre working vineyard, housing, and pastures for the rescued equines from all across the country and beyond. 

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Adams and her crew collaborate with several rescues across the United States to provide a home for equines often considered unadoptable or needing end-of-life care. Among the equines residing at Red Bell Run are ponies, donkeys, hinnies and even a Somali wild ass, along with a plethora of horses ranging from draft mules to mammoth donkeys. Each resident is taken care of medically and socially in a manner solely for the animal’s needs, every step being taken to ensure they live comfortable, happy lives by the staff, whom the equines often adore as much as their caretakers adore them.

The memories of the Sanctuary are also available to take home with the Red Bell Run Calendar and other items available in their gift shop. 

“We have every different personality you can think of,” Adams says. “I have some wild ones, some calm ones, sweet and loving ones, and some that don’t want to just stand in their presence.” 

It is often said, “A vineyard is a sanctuary where nature and human ingenuity intertwine,” making the Vineyard at Red Bell Run a perfect metaphor for the work being done at the Sanctuary, as the same forces of nature and ingenuity are at work. One of the largest active vineyards in Polk County, it grows several varieties of grapes, including Merlot, Chardonnay, Viognier, and Pinot Grigio. However, it does not make wine. Mountain Brook Vineyards of Tryon makes the wine. The combination of the views from the vineyard creates feelings of peacefulness and inspiration while also serving as a brilliant spot for a photo opportunity. 

Above the property sits a louvered cupola showcasing the red bell, the Sanctuary’s namesake. The red bell is a replica of the one from the train Adams’s father often rode as a young man growing up in Florida. Adams relocated to the Foothills from Florida, having become familiar with the area as a young woman spending summers in Highlands. 

She has quickly become an integral part of the community, allowing charities to use her home. She lives on the property and works with other local charities and foundations. They offer free tours to groups and individuals and have a monthly reading program with the rescue program for K-6 graders.

It’s clear Adams and her staff have expertise on the various breeds. The sanctuary is built like a community around each equine’s social and medical needs. Adequate time and thought are put into helping each one adjust when they arrive and thrive once there. 

Adams says, “We do a lot to help them settle in. We give them water wherever they want it, food wherever they want it, and let them do what they want to do when they want to do it. This helps them become settled in their environment and build a routine.”

The barns are named to fit their tenants and are filled with strong-willed, well-groomed, and adorable residents, the stars of the Sanctuary. With names like Highway Joe, Millie, Clara and Pinto Bean, all of the equines shine in different ways and have stories that showcase the importance of the Sanctuary’s mission. Stories that thankfully have happy endings, thanks to Mary Adams. 

Upon arrival, visitors see the Mini Woods, the home to mini mules, hinnies and one miniature horse, where the wild bunch lives on a modified “track system.” Mini Heaven is their barn, home to special needs miniature horses. Most of the minis in this village require intensive care, treatment and medications. The Mini Sugar Shack is home to miniature horses, while Silo Barn is home to almost one of each type of equine. Trailside is their original nursery barn. Centerview overlooks the pastures on the north side of the upper farm and is home to their Hackney ponies. Hee Haw Hideaway is home to their miniature donkey herds. Villa Roja is the original special needs barn. Hilltop Barn is home to the larger draft horses and Mountain View to the draft mules. Millie’s Manor, Longears Villas, Roadside Inn and Critters Corner are each specialized for certain breeds ranging from young to old, with some residents over 30 and even 40 years old. 

Of course, there is a touch of sadness when one passes the Memorial Garden, which is filled with the beloved residents who have passed on but are still well remembered. 

Mary Adams and her team have created a community that inspires all who visit. The sanctuary is not just a home for animals but a place of hope, where animals in need of care find a home filled with compassion and care. 

Red Bell Run Sanctuary radiates positivity and empathy, which Adams and her team share. It is a testament to the power of love and a reminder that we are all in this together. A visit to Red Bell Run Sanctuary is an experience you will never forget.

To schedule a visit, go to or call 828.863.2017. The Sanctuary’s social media accounts can be found at