Sheila G. Miller / The Bulletin

This month, Bobbe Ernzer faced some hard decisions.

Her husband’s back injury had flared up again, and he wasn’t able to work, leaving the couple with severely reduced income. When winter came and her east-side home’s pasture didn’t have much grass left, Ernzer stocked up on hay for her six Kiger mustangs. But as her hay supply began to run short, her options dwindled.

Then she heard about Doug Evans and his new program, Grassroots of Central Oregon, which seeks to connect horse owners with hay to help them through difficult economic times. She picked up her first batch of hay through the program Wednesday afternoon.

“It was (an) absolute relief,” she said. “It’s not the kind of thing I can afford to be bashful about. These horses are my responsibility, and I realize maybe this time it’s my turn, and maybe there will be an opportunity when I can help, too.”

Doug Evans is a small-animal veterinarian in Bend. Evans and his wife, Meghan, own two rescue horses that came from a group called Hooves and Halos.

Evans said when Meghan saw the media reports about Trooper, later renamed Hero, the horse who was shot and left to fend for itself in the wilderness, she felt called to action.

“My wife just became concerned with the fact that we’re going to be seeing more horses given up or dumped or euthanized,” Evans said. “There’s a reality here that euthanasia and disposal is kind of expensive, and we have an overpopulation of horses. Some of the rescue groups are at capacity.”

So Evans founded Grassroots of Central Oregon, a hay donation program.

Byron Maas, who runs a hospice program on Rickard Road, has allowed Evans to use one of his barns for the program. The veterinarian then started spreading the word, calling fellow veterinarians, equine rescue programs and other horse people.

The Evanses tried to keep it simple: Help struggling horse owners through the winter.

“We know a lot of people have pasture in the warm weather but have to feed their horses hay in the winter,” Doug Evans said. “This may be a temporary solution, and they may still have to give up their animals, but it gives them a shot at keeping the animals with them.”

Ernzer said she never thought she’d be in this position.

“We’re certainly not floating in money, but we’ve always been able to hold our own,” Ernzer said. “You find it happens very quickly. It doesn’t take much to send you off the edge of having money and not having money.”

She got her first horse, Fit as a Riddle, at an adoption in Burns, then bought a mare named Dark Star with two foals, named Doc’s Riddle and Ginger Snap. The Ernzers bred Fit as a Riddle and Dark Star, who had two more foals this spring, named Pele and Noni Loa.

“If I could go back, in hindsight, four horses would be easier to take care of than six,” Ernzer said.

The six horses eat about a bale of hay each day. Right now, Ernzer said she pays about $10 per bale.

“Mustangs are hardy animals, and they’re doing just fine on a bale a day,” Ernzer said. “But as the temperatures get worse, their consumption goes up.”

When she realized how difficult it would be to make ends meet, Ernzer began trying to adopt them out. Then she tried to give them away.

“There were no takers,” she said. “People have been trying to give me horses since last August. ... I’ve been trying to find them homes before I got to the point of being desperate.”

Evans hasn’t been alone in his crusade to find hay for families in need. The Central Oregon Humane Society agreed to help out by soliciting donations. People can send checks to the Humane Society noting that the money should be directed to Grassroots of Central Oregon. Donations are tax deductible.

Others have pitched in as well. Deschutes County Sheriff Larry Blanton, along with other people at the Sheriff’s Office, donated two tons of hay.

Now the goal is to spread the word to people who might need help feeding their horses and to people who might have a few bales of hay to donate.

“I know there’s going to be people like us who have horses and end up with a few extra bales,” Evans said. “Maybe they’ll say, ‘Hey, let’s take those in.’”

Ernzer suspects many people are in her position, struggling to pay bills and still care for their animals.

“It’s not for lack of trying, and I think there are still some folks out there who haven’t admitted it yet,” she said. “I know people out there, unfortunately, with more horses than I’ve got. Or it may be one horse.”

Evans said he was impressed with Ernzer. In a letter she sent to him, she offered to work for the hay or at least pay Evans back for it when her finances improve.

“These people are exactly what we’re looking for,” Evans said of the Ernzers. “They’re trying to find options; they’re trying to work for hay; they’re not looking for a handout, but they’re backed up against a wall right now.”

Evans doesn’t hand out large amounts of hay at a time, and those who need help must fill out some paperwork and let him visit their facilities to check out the horses. He also prefers the horse owners pick up the hay. That’s fine by Ernzer.

“I’m very appreciative that there’s someone out there trying to do this,” she said. “We have to pull together.”

To donate hay or money

There are several ways to donate to Grassroots of Central Oregon.

To donate hay, call Doug Evans at 541-408-6079 or e-mail him at .

To donate money, write a check to the Central Oregon Humane Society, and be sure to note that the money is for Grassroots of Central Oregon.