The Maryland Hay Bank, an operation of the Mount Airy-based Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue, was among 15 organizations awarded a piece of $21,000 in grants this week from the Maryland Horse Industry Board.

The Maryland Hay Bank assists private horse owners who are experiencing a financial hardship or a personal crisis with free hay for their horses for 30 days, up to a maximum of 100 total bales.

The Maryland Hay Bank is donation driven, and hay is provided at no cost to recipients.

"We provide hay to owners who are good but have fallen on hard times," said Christine Hajek, president and founder of the Maryland Hay Bank. "We help keep horses in good homes."


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Gentle Giants, located off Lady Anne Court, in Mount Airy, will receive $2,500 for the hay bank program. The state board described the operation as "a unique and innovative program that has the potential to benefit individual horse farm owners in financial distress."

The grant will "enable the (hay) bank to reach out to more potential recipients," according to the board.

"We have seen an increase in applications," Hajek said. "We're expecting it to get worse. There is a hay shortage in Maryland right now."

She said she receives requests from as far away as Arizona and Colorado. Though Hajek finds the requests from out of state "incredibly sad," she said that the hay bank, for now, is just for horses in Maryland.

And the operation will not provide hay to owners who provide "negligent care," Hajek said.

"If it is quite apparent the horses are starving or have had no hoof care … a month of hay is not going to help them," Hajek said, adding that she will provide the owners with the names of other resources to help.

Overall, the state grants are designed to help strengthen the horse industry in Maryland by building awareness of and involvement through research, education and promotional activities.

"The equine industry is an integral part of Maryland's cultural and economic heritage," said state Agriculture Secretary Buddy Hance.

"The scope and value of projects that the board evaluated illustrates the demand for these grants," Hance said.

The grant funding is provided primarily through the state's Maryland Feed Fund. Established during the 2002 legislative session, the fund provides an ongoing source of money to promote the horse industry. The refundable $6 per ton assessment on equine feed costs about $3 per horse per year to the horse owner and supports the grant program as well as other promotional, research and outreach activities by the Maryland Horse Industry Board.

This year, the board received 52 grant applications totaling more than $260,000. Projects were evaluated for value to the industry, degree of industry promotion, size and scope of the activity, financial need and quality of the written presentation.

Since 2001, the board has awarded 189 grants totaling more than $218,000. For more information, call 410-841-5798 or email peddicrd@mda.state.md.us.

For information on the Maryland Hay Bank, go to http://www.marylandhaybank.org.