Equine Outreach, a nonprofit horse sanctuary in Bend, is fighting to keep its gates open, but its founder, Joan Steelhammer, is confident it will make it.

In January, Steelhammer and her husband, Gary Everett, found out the lease on the 20-acre Equine Outreach property would go up about $1,000 a month, because of the way the loan for the mortgage holder was written. To meet that cost, as well as the costs of utilities and insurance, Gene Storm, a board member of Equine Outreach, pitched the idea of creating a fundraising campaign.

The campaign, Keep the Gates Open, is now in its sixth month, and the horse sanctuary, located on Silvis Road in northeast Bend just north of Butler Market Road, is more than halfway to reaching the goal of $62,500. Nearly $38,000 has been raised.

“That’s pretty good; I hope that we’ll make it,” Woody Dow, president of the Equine Outreach board, said Wednesday.

Donations to the Keep the Gates Open campaign will only go toward the lease, insurance and utilities. The annual costs of caring for 76 horses (the number they have now) is about $171,000. That money is raised separately, through general donations or grants. Smaller amounts of money come from a few other sources: rent from residents living in a house and apartment on the property, horse adoption fees and money paid for boarding a few horses there privately. And then there are in-kind donations; 22 tons of carrots were donated last fall after a truck carrying the cargo crashed near Redmond.

Storm said the horse sanctuary is also looking at ways it can reduce waste, including the amount of hay used each week.

Dow, the board president, is the resident trainer on the property. He said when horses eat hay out of an open bin, they root around with their noses and teeth. They toss out hay in the dirt to find their favorite pieces at the bottom of the bin, kind of like how a human might pick through trail mix.

Volunteers work to put that hay back in the bins, but it often gets shoveled up with manure. Equine Outreach plans to purchase hay nets, which look like netted bags that hold the hay. With those, horses have to pull out the hay through the holes and they can’t root around to toss some out.

Storm said two new volunteers, Kathy Manhan and her partner, John Ostrander, both of Bend, have pledged to buy the hay nets, in addition to having already made a “substantial” donation.

Manhan, who worked in health care for more than 30 years, also has a background in nonprofits.

She knows funding is a constant struggle for any nonprofit.

“Getting people to help is so hard,” she said.

Anyone who works at Equine Outreach is a volunteer. Manhan discussed what motivated her to start there:

“I think the issue that really got me was one of the horses going down,” she said.

“Custer,” Storm interjected.

In March, Crook County sheriff’s deputies responded to a tip about three malnourished horses in a pen in the Juniper Acres neighborhood. When a vet came to assist, one of the horses had already died. The other two — Custer, a 24-year-old gelding (a castrated male), and Sassy, a 3-year-old mare — were taken to Equine Outreach. Custer, in too bad of shape to recover, later had to be euthanized.

Equine Outreach is the go-to for a number of sheriff’s offices in the area to keep horses or mules that have been taken from their owners, usually for neglect. Deschutes County has had its own livestock rescue and shelter for the past few years to keep seized animals , but other counties, including Jefferson and Crook, turn to Equine Outreach.

The majority of horses at Equine Outreach are from those cases of neglect, which means the nonprofit has less room when owners call for help when they can’t provide for their horses anymore because of the financial burden.

“It’s a phone call from a husband, wife. … Sometimes they’ll say, ‘My wife has got cancer, we don’t have health insurance, we can’t afford the horse,’” Dow said.

Steelhammer’s goal is to work with the sheriff’s offices to set up programs so there are more places for neglected horses to go, she said. But for now, even when they’re full, they’ll take on more if it’s an emergency.

When Steelhammer got the call about Custer and Sassy in March, the nonprofit was already housing about 80 horses, but because it was an emergency, she picked them up anyway. Dow and Storm said that’s because she has such a soft spot for horses, even when funds are tight.

“No pun intended, but sometimes we have to rein Joan in,” Storm said.

Sassy has since been adopted and renamed Angel by a family in Bend.

Storm said he understands some people might choose first to donate to human causes before those for animals.

“There are all kinds of needs in Bend,” he said.

But there are still many others, even from around the country, who choose to donate to Equine Outreach. Storm said a lot of donations come in that are just $10 or $20. Each year, those contributions, combined with large donations, add up to keep the nonprofit running.

Steelhammer is confident the horse sanctuary will raise enough money to keep the gates open.

“Well, we always do,” she said.

— Reporter: 541-383-0325,

kfisicaro@bendbulletin.com

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