Horse lover starts novel exchange to help people having a hard time keeping their stables in feed.

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DENVER — Nearly three months ago, Amy Ryals spotted a notice on a popular social website that jumped out at her.

A married couple owned a horse but were struggling financially because of illness and unemployment. They were down to their last bales of hay and were seeking help.

“It really bothered me. I couldn’t shake it from my head,” said Ryals, who lives near Parker, Colo., and has three horses.

So Ryals began a mission. She searched websites for horse rescue and other organizations that would be willing to help, but she quickly became discouraged.

“The need is so great, and organizations are far and few between,” she said.

That’s when Ryals decided to start a nonprofit to help horse owners who cannot feed their horses. She named it the Hay Bank.

“We’re talking about responsible horse owners, people who need help but their options are very limited,” she said.

Since the website was created 2 ½ months ago, Ryals has rounded up 10 volunteers who pick up the hay or deliver it to the organization’s storage sites.

The couple ended up with 20 bales of hay, allowing them extra time to either sell their horse or find it a new home. One person donated 50 bales for the hungry-horse cause.

Horse owners seeking free hay must first must provide a veterinary reference, plus two additional references to show proof of prior care.

“We’re not for people who buy or sell horses or those who mistreat them,”Ryals said.

The average price for a bale of hay is between $5 and $7, according to Ryals. One horse may eat up to 10 bales of hay per month depending on the horse, she said.

Julie Smith of Firestone, Colo., and her horse Joker were two of the first hay recipients. The single mother of three children cares for a Palomino paint who belongs to her family.

Feeding her brood and her horse became an issue when she hit a financial snag. The Horse Hay organization came to the rescue with 20 bales of hay.

“It was a godsend thing. People need help with their horses; they’re part of our family,” Smith said.