MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — This winter could be particularly difficult for Minnesota horse owners after drought and disease have led to a shortage of hay.

That makes it extra expensive for owners, and animal rescue groups are saddling up for a tough road ahead.

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It’s all due to alfalfa crops not faring well in the last year.

“It is a perfect storm of winter kill of alfalfa, dry conditions most of the summer, which has now led to shortage of quality hay,” said Stacy Bettison of the Minnesota Horse Welfare Coalition. “And that has led to much higher hay prices.”

Some horse owners said they spend nearly twice as much to feed their animals as they did last year.

“Horses can eat lower quality hay, but it’s like you and I eating Cheetos. It’s not good for them and they are not going to keep their weight on,” Bettison said, as less expensive hay can lead to digestive problems and even death.

At We Can Ride in Minnetonka, Mary Mitten said they offer horseback riding classes to people with disabilities.

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With 20 horses in the program – and each horse going through a bale in two days – the rising costs of hay during the winter months makes stockpiling a necessity.

“Obviously hay does not grow in the wintertime, and when you need to buy hay in the winter, it is very expensive, because you are not only paying for the hay, but for wherever it’s been stored for however long,” Mitten said.

Bettison echoed Mitten’s concern that horse owners should be in planning mode right now.

“There is a supply now,” Bettison said. “It is expensive, but they need to line it up in advance. Otherwise come January, February and March, that’s when things are going to get really, really difficult.”

Bettison runs the Hay Bank, which is part of the Minnesota Horse Welfare Coalition.

They raise money throughout the year to assist people who are struggling to pay for the care of their horses.

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