The problem appears worse this year based on the number of calls the coalition has received this summer from owners who can't feed their horses, said Ericka Caslin, the group's director. Caslin said her group tries to connect horse owners with shelters, but many are already at capacity.
Tony Pecho, president of the Illinois Horse Rescue near Chicago, began the year excited that land purchases and a sharecropping deal with another horse owner had doubled the property he had available to grow hay. But so far, he said, the 70 acres he has this year produced one-fourth of the hay gathered last year.
Pecho said he's concerned he won't be able to store enough food to get his 15 horses through the winter, when they won't be able to graze at all. Meanwhile, the number of calls to his rescue take in abused and neglected animals has increased from four to 20 per month.
"Horses running down the road. Horses let loose in public hunting areas," he said. "We're get calls from people who have had them as pets for five or 10 years, but now they can't afford them."
Horse owners said the situation has become desperate because those in trouble have few options, especially since some sanctuaries have stopped taking animals.
"There's no place to go with a horse you can't feed," said Iowa Horse Council President Bill Paynter, of New Virginia, Iowa.
Even horse owners who have the money to buy hay may have a tough time finding it. James Noel of Coatesville, Ind., said he harvested enough to feed his six horses this year, but he didn't have enough to sell to others. He worries about what some people will do this winter, as supplies wane.
"If people have hay, they're hanging onto it," said Noel, president of the Indiana Horse Council. "It's taken a toll on all of us, and we're all sure it's going to get a lot worse."