It may be a drop in the bucket, but a new

has already saved 16 of New Mexico's horses from recession-era neglect—at least for now.

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The fund, established last month as the brainchild of horse advocates at

, gives emergency hay and grain subsidies so families can keep and continue to care for their horses, mules and donkeys.

According to coordinator Phil Carter, the Equine Protection Fund has allocated two months' emergency feed for 10 horses, four donkeys and two mules so far, and has enough funding to help 15 to 20 more. Assistance goes to families where a job loss or medical emergency has squeezed resources. Any family can apply for emergency feed, but according to Carter, the Fund doesn't yet have a waiting list. Nor does it prioritize.

"Once we have determined a legitimate need on the part of the horse owner (private not professional horse ownership; references from employers, doctors, veterinarians; etc.), the program views all qualifying applicants as having equal need and authorizes assistance as quickly as possible," Carter informs SFR via e-mail.

But even as the Fund's reach increases—Carter says with additional money, the EPF could serve another 50 horses this year—so does need.

APNM, Carter says, manages both the Attorney General's and its own animal cruelty hotline.

"We've seen a marked increase over the last couple years of calls about equine cruelty cases," Carter says. SFR reported on the plight of New Mexico's wild and domestic horses in a

last November—but Carter says not much has changed. And in winter, he adds, things can get even worse "as far as people not being able to fed their horses."

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