In search of ponies: Horse in for a rough ride

Sharna Johnson

Things are tough.

The economy is tight, people are stretching their dollars to cover the cost of the rising expenses and most of the recent data says they are doing it without pay increases.

And to make things worse, drought and wildfires in the area have hit the feed supply for animals.

As winter approaches and people begin to try and stock their barns, I have heard more complaints by horse owners about the difficulty and expense of finding hay than ever before.

Today alone, three people told me they had made numerous phone calls searching for hay with no luck.

I have covered the news side of it, writing stories about the factors influencing rising costs and the impact it has on pocketbooks.

However, there’s another side to the issue as well.

Most people would say if you can’t afford the cost of feeding your animals, you shouldn’t keep them.

But what if there’s no market for them and it’s difficult if not impossible to sell or even give them away?

What if nearly everybody is in varying degrees of the same hardship?

They aren’t called “hay burners” for nothing, and horses, particularly those classified as non-working or “pleasure horses” are becoming more and more of a luxury, particularly as the feed issue compounds.

I fear there are good people out there, who, at the mercy of the feed climate and through no fault of their own, will not be able to find or afford feed this winter and will struggle to meet their animal’s basic needs.

People in the business will tell you that even if the weather pattern in the area changes and there is moisture, it won’t happen soon enough to change the feed supply issues for the year.

Most of them will also tell you an increase in starving horses is a reality that’s just around the corner, especially if the winter is a harsh one.

If they are correct, as much as I hate to sound like Chicken Little, by the time the full impact of the situation starts to show itself in ribs that you can count or protruding hip bones, it will have gone too far.

An animal deteriorated to that point takes a significant amount of time, money and heart to save, and frankly there just aren’t enough people willing or able to make the investment, especially if it becomes a trend involving a lot of animals.

On the rare occasion where someone does step forward to intervene and save a starving animal, kudos to them. A life gets spared and they get to feel good about their deed.

But it seems to me it’s much easier and perhaps even more heroic to save an animal on the front end of the problem rather than after it’s already taken hold.

I wish I knew the magic solution to keep all the horses in the community warm and fuzzy this winter, but I will be the first to admit I don’t have the answer.

What I do know is that if the experts are right and the feed supply gets as thin as predicted in coming months, neighbors will need to rally together.

When there is enough reason to believe a problem is coming, it makes sense to get ahead of it and put measures in place — kind of like sandbags before a flood.

If there’s no flood, at least you have a lot of door-stoppers.

And if there is, well then you might get your socks wet, but your house, and your neighbor’s, will still be standing.