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COVID-19 restrictions could lead to difficult decisions for equestrian schools
KITCHENER -- Restrictions due to COVID-19 are costing many businesses in lost revenue, but for one industry, those losses add up to more than money.
Equestrian schools are struggling to feed and care for their horses, prompting the community to step in to try and help.
Each day, Jen Sweet feeds and cares for 28 horses at Lion's Bridge Stable in Ayr.
"As a boarding stable, where people pay us to care for their horses, we still have revenue coming in right now," she says.
"Even though the boarders aren't here, we're still in a position to be able to take care of the horses."
She even took a few extra horses in when riding schools closed under the provincial state of emergency.
"If you’re running a lesson barn right now you have zero income," Sweet explains.
She points to hay and grain, stall cleaning and daily grooming and care as costs that add up quickly for lesson barns.
Vanessa Quintal runs VQ Equestrian and says she normally earns about two thirds of her revenue off of lessons.
Without that income, she had to lay off her staff to keep up with the bills for her 17 horses.
"Some of them need medications, some of them need massage and chiro just to function, feed costs alone," she says.
Quintal has been sourcing help where she can.
She says her farrier has been coming out and willing to defer their payments, but she acknowledges they have their own bills to pay.
Sweet says this is more than a matter of bills for her horses.
"This is really an animal welfare issue. It's making sure that animals are fed and cared for and looked after when there's no money coming in," she says.
She fears that the financial fallout might make for some difficult decisions down the line.
She worries that some people may have to sell their younger horses in order to finance the older ones, or worse.
"Whether they'll have to make the very difficult decisions on euthanasia of the older ones in order to keep the younger ones," she says.
The equestrian community is hoping to avoid these hard decisions.
They've launched the website 'Helping the Schoolies' to raise money for some 1,500 school horses across the province.
"What we're trying to do is mitigate that disaster as best as we can, and keep all the horses fed to buy them time to get through until we can reopen," Sweet explains.
Ontario Equestrian is getting on board with its 'For the Herd' campaign, highlighting the monthly cost of horse care.
According to the organization, a horse can cost up to $350 per month for feed, $300 for bedding, $250 for farrier care and another $150 for vet check-ups and medicine.
"Equestrian Canada is working with government-level officials right now and lobbying to try and get some funds available to us and to the people who care of these animals," Sweet says.
While the boarding stables aren't facing the same financial struggles as lesson barns right now, they know that could change easily if a client loses income and it comes down to their decision between paying horse board or mortgage.
They also expect the client base to shrink after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, since fewer people will have disposable income.