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Kan. horse owners struggle with rising hay prices

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Some Kansas horse owners are being forced to thin their herds because they can't afford the rising cost of hay, while others are buying lower-quality hay or cutting back on how much they are feeding their animals.

Careen Cain, founder and president of Wakarusa-based Shooting Star Equine Rescue, told The Topeka Capital-Journal (http://is.gd/keS72w ) she hears from people five to 10 times a month who are looking for new homes for their horses. The most common reason people cite for giving up a horse is that they can no longer take care of the animal, she said.

Often that's because of problems such as lost jobs, personal medical bills -- and the rising cost of hay, she said.

Large round bales of hay that cost $35 to $40 each in 2011 peaked last year at $115 to $120 before falling to the current price of $40 to $60 apiece.

Drought conditions are largely to blame for the crippling price hikes over the past two or three years, said Marty Bloomquist, who runs Dancing Star Ranch near Tecumseh with her husband. A lack of moisture meant less hay was grown, cutting sharply into the region's supply, she said.

Bloomquist, whose land on her ranch has produced significantly more hay this year than last, said she is having no trouble feeding the 15 horses on her property.

"You won't see any ribs here," she said.

Still, pastures in the area need time to recover, she said, noting that rising hay prices seem to have put the most pressure on horse owners who can least afford them.

Bloomquist said she saw four horses get progressively thinner this year as they were kept in a lot east of Topeka, and she was sure their owners didn't have enough money to pay for hay.

The owners eventually gave up one of the horses, a former thoroughbred racehorse that was getting particularly thin, Bloomquist said. He came to live at her ranch, where he was brought back to health and now is being ridden at a ranch in the Flint Hills.