Caring for horses follows the cycle of the seasons. Summer’s lush grassy fields and barns bursting with fresh-cut hay turns to winter’s challenges, of fields churned to mud and hay stores depleted as the cold days wear on.

For Ripley’s Horse Aid and Adopt-A-Horse, programs of Clark County Executive Horse Council, these challenges can be especially acute.

Each program targets a different group of horses, but the end goal is the same – to ease the suffering horses experience due to starvation and neglect. Along with assistance with euthanasia and critical health care, Ripley’s Horse Aid provides a one-time supply of hay and grain to help horse owners who are experiencing a temporary setback.

Adopt-A-Horse is a fostering and adoption program for horses which have been relinquished to Clark County Animal Control. Ten years in, Adopt-A-Horse has fostered and re-homed 160 horses. Foster homes provide daily care, but Adopt-A-Horse provides the hay, grain and other care that horses need while in their custody.

The programs have been hit with a double whammy this year which has reduced their stores of hay to nothing, said Lori Harris, Adopt-A-Horse co-founder.

Starting last summer, personal events caused regular volunteers to be unable to haul and store the usual supply of hay. Clark County bales hay from fields that were simply mowed in the past, but volunteers are still needed to haul and stack the hay in the barn. When donors call to offer hay, volunteers are usually needed to collect it.

This lack of manpower meant that going into winter, the hay barns held only a fraction of their usual hay. And then the second challenge happened.

A long-time Clark County horse breeder experienced a severe financial setback. They expected it to be temporary, and had attempted to cope on their own for several years. They stopped breeding new foals, and reduced their herd by about 15 horses, but as time passed the 35 remaining horses were growing thin from meager rations.

After several calls to Clark County Animal Control from concerned passers-by, Harris brought in the resources of both Adopt-A-Horse and Ripley’s Horse Aid to assist.

It’s a unique situation, Harris said. The horses are being “fostered in place,” an alternative to relinquishment that allows the owners to work with the county to remediate their situation.

This is a superior option, emphasized Harris. The logistics of housing and care for 35 horses would strain the volunteer and financial resources of Adopt-A-Horse beyond their capacity.

With a foster-in-place solution, each horse’s condition is evaluated, feeding charts are developed for every horse, and they receive bi-weekly monitoring. And, they receive the hay they need so badly. For 35 horses, a ton of hay might last three days.

Harris anticipates that this single case will require assistance for 60 to 90 days, in order for horses to be returned to health and sold or re-homed.

Meeting this unusual demand on resources has quickly depleted the already meager hay supply for both Ripley’s Horse Aid and Adopt-A-Horse. And, the winter season is just beginning. It’s known as “intake season” among rescue groups for a good reason — this is the time of year when horse owners who were getting by with grassy fields are now facing a muddy field and hungry horses needing a steady supply of hay. Simple financial setbacks can cause this situation to grow dire quickly.

Harris estimates that the programs need about 400 bales of hay to meet their needs for the rest of the year. Monetary funds are needed as well, to purchase feed and provide assistance with the veterinary and farrier care that is certain to be needed.

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