A program using rescued horses to help recuperating U.S. veterans is itself in need – of hay.

Finding enough reasonably priced horse hay has been a trial for Veterans Equine Trail Service (VETS), which has a stable of 38 horses near LaValle, WI. The prolonged winter weather hasn’t helped.

“We’re down to our last five large round bales and 200 small square bales. In a normal year, that might have been enough to get us through because the pastures would be greening up by now. This year, though, the snow and the cold have just kept on coming,” says Barb Knopf, who founded VETS two years ago to help veterans deal with physical and emotional issues related to their service.

“It looks like it’s going to be at least another month before the grass is tall enough for us to let the horses out. And it will be at least four to six weeks before anyone in the area can do a first cutting of hay.”

Knopf, a Beirut-era veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and the mother of two active service members, describes VETS as a “therapeutic environment.” Veterans can work closely with horses, interact with fellow veterans and relax while enjoying the scenery on a 62-acre farm nestled in the hilly countryside of southern Wisconsin.

“There’s just something about being around horses, interacting with them and doing chores like feeding, grooming or cleaning stalls, that helps people clear their minds and work through their issues and problems,” she says.

The horses themselves have been rescued, according to the VETS website. Most had been neglected, abused or suffered other traumas.

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Last year’s meteoric rise in hay prices didn’t catch Knopf off guard. Early last fall, she lined up a fairly sizeable supply of round bales from a farmer in a neighboring county.

But in November, just a few weeks before some of the hay was to be delivered, the supplier called Knopf. An arsonist had set fire to the stacks of hay earmarked for VETS and three other farmers.

Knopf scrambled to find another supplier, but area hay prices were starting to explode. “Last year, we were paying around $40 for a large round bale weighing around 1,000 lbs. This year, the price for the same kind of hay has been running around $90-120 – that’s if you can find it at all. Already this year, I’ve paid out $14,000 for hay. And I’m not done yet. It’s scary.”

Knopf needs 15-20 large round bales to carry VETS through to the summer growing season. She notes that the program is non-profit, so any donated hay is tax-deductible.

But she’s also “more than willing” to pay for hay. “I can use just about any kind of hay as long as it’s mold-free and reasonably priced.”

To contact Knopf, call 608-393-6315 or email bobbie8632@yahoo.com.

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