Helping Each Other

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THere's perhaps no more satisfying feeling for a horseman than having a loft full of hay in the fall. And tHere's no more unsettling feeling when you count the bales in the loft and realize there aren?t enough of them to see you through a forecast of bad weather or some other emergency, especially in late winter when even the local feed store may be out of hay.

We're good for now in December, but in February that could be a different story. it's wonderful at that moment to realize you have friends down the road who can see you through the crisis.

The horse folks in Tryon, N.C., have taken those feelings to heart in an imaginative way to help each other through the economic hard times we currently face. During a drought four years ago, they organized the Foothills Hay Pledge, in cooperation with local vets and the Humane Society, to help horse owners with temporary problems due to the economy, illness or unemployment.

Horse owners (100 of them currently) each pledge 10 bales of hay, if needed. The call list works in rotation, and not everyone gets a call each year. They get a no-guilt pass if their own reserves are low. Some also pledge to make deliveries.

This isn?t meant to be a permanent solution. Anyone in real need can call and receive 10 bales. No names of the recipients are revealed, but the organizers feel that their trust hasn?t been abused to just get hay for free.

Sometimes veterinarians traveling the local roads will see a situation where hay is clearly needed and call the Fund for help. As a side benefit, the Fund also has helped take some pressure off the Humane Society and the horse-rescue groups.

This is one of the most inventive community-support ideas We've heard of, but the Tryon area has other projects as well, including a volunteer equine ambulance, a mounted search-and-rescue group, therapeutic riding, Pony Clubs and 4-H, hunt clubs, and several groups that maintain trails.

In lots of horsey areas in this country, there are horse shows and an annual dinner but little more in the way of activities to foster unity, even though there are always issues that horse people have in common, particularly land use. A project like the Hay Pledge goes beyond emergency aid for just individuals. It creates a climate of cohesiveness that helps the entire horse community ? including riders, farm owners and other horse-related businesses ? to thrive during tough times.

While the Hay Pledge might not work out as well for other locales, the concept that imagination and kindness can lead to a thoughtful use of local resources benefits everyone. It shouldn't matter what kind of riding you do or the type of horses you have. Horsemen can help each other to the benefit of all.