COVID-19 hits equestrian facilities hard across eastern Ontario
OTTAWA -- Many horse farms are concerned over losing the summer season where most of their annual income is made. And if farmers cannot operate due to the COVID-19 pandemic, owners could face tough decisions.
At Royale Equestrian Centre in Barrhaven, owner Emily Bertrand is posting her herd of more than 40 horses online. It's a sponsorship program for students who ride at the centre, to virtually care for their favourite horse.
It's a last-ditch effort to earn income. The COVID-19 pandemic has closed the doors on the facility that relies on riding lessons, birthday parties and camps to pay the bills. Bertrand says the cost of each horse varies, however, between feed, vet care and maintenance, the average price is nearly $500 a horse each month.
"In the winter we operate at a deficit so our income that comes in through the summer months is really important for us," Bertrand says. "We are really worried that if we can't operate as normal this summer that we're going to be in a lot of trouble next winter."
Many equestrian facilities that rely on summer camps and riding activities are facing unprecedented financial hardship during this pandemic. Business owners are struggling to cover the expense of caring for their horses.
Ontario Equestrian executive director Tracey McCague-McElrea says it’s an industry that falls between the cracks and if relief doesn't come, some barns may face hard realities.
"Ultimately if people can't afford to look after them it's probably going to be either they're going to have to euthanize them or they're going to end up going to slaughter or they're going to have to try to sell them."
The federation is lobbying governments for assistance. They say a subsidy is needed to help feed and care for the horses, relief these barns need during the shut down of their facilities.
In response to the ongoing pandemic, they have launched an initiative called “For The Herd.” One-hundred per cent of the donations and funds raised go towards the riding school facilities and lesson horses of Ontario.
For Bertrand, selling horses is not an option after spending years finding the right horses for her programs, saying reliable horses aren't easy to find.
Part of Royale Equestrian's virtual program is the opportunity to ride your sponsor horse when the farm reopens. Somethings Bertrand hopes can be offered this summer.