Recognizing the urgent need of our equine friends, Jen Sweet of Lions Bridge Stables of Ayr, along with Jessica Blackwood, came up with a plan to help the horses.
By Ellie Ross.
I normally write about equine behaviour and various ideas on how to modify behaviour or teach your horse new skills that enhance understanding and education, however this month, I am writing about how we need to help all the horses due to the COVID-19 shutdown. The 2020 show season has turned into the 2020 no season and while our economy has been provided government support for many businesses and unemployed work forces, there is a group of unemployed that are falling through the cracks. There are thousands of unemployed horses and the money to look after them is running out fast. Lesson horses, therapy horses, racehorses, trail horses etc. have all the same basic needs and as the revenue has gone down, the welfare concerns have risen. Most equine operations don’t meet the criteria for the emergency benefits programs, so the shortfalls will be plentiful.
Recognizing the urgent need of our equine friends, Jen Sweet of Lions Bridge Stables of Ayr, along with Jessica Blackwood, came up with a plan to help the horses. They launched a website and program called ‘Helping the Schoolies’ whose goal is to distribute a pandemic relief package for each riding facility in need. Relief will be used to ensure the basic needs, health and welfare of horses during the pandemic. “We all started riding on a schoolie so we owe it to them to help” says Sweet who started her riding career back in the late 70’s near Newmarket Ontario at a summer camp, where she fell in love with a bay mare named ‘Markanna’. That led her to part boarding a school horse from the Horse Lover’s Day Camp. A little chestnut gelding named ‘Sam’ provided her the confidence she needed and confirmed her love of equestrian sports that remains strong to this day. The current goal is to help get these unemployed horses through this period to prevent a situation where they will need to be saved later. Sweet projects a 6-8 month survival plan is needed and recognizes that they all can’t be saved but many can be helped and she is helping the best way she can. Turning to veterinarians and fellow equestrians the brainstorming started that led to a FB group and website that provided immediate relief to the most urgent calls for help.
The movement to help grew quickly and at the time of this interview, there were 209 Farms and 2195 Horses registered. “Let’s get them fed and figure out the rest later” says Sweet as she reflects on the future of this overlooked industry.
The support has been extraordinary with fundraising efforts like that of Baker’s Saddlery that raised an amazing $24,000 with their online auction.
Ontario Equestrian partnered up with Sweet and has since taken over. They launched a provincial fundraiser called ‘For the Herd’ at fortheherd.ca , recognizing that the industry will be slow to recover and many summer camps were already sold with deposits and full payments made before the COVID shutdown. It’s a business nightmare but with the added concern of living beings that need to eat and be cared for. On the first day that the OE launched their program, they received 100 applications for assistance. The fundraising goal is $500,000 of which 5% has been raised at the time of publication.
Undoubtedly, equestrian operations will be faced with downsizing but even selling horses is proving near impossible with the inability to see or even try out horses, not to mention the drop in value due to lack of demand with the associated economic hardship many are enduring. “The efforts being made are simply to help assist in order to avoid catastrophic consequences for the horses. It is not a handout to pay someone’s bills” says Sweet. “The skepticism is understandable and the process to apply for aid is about as good as it can be given the current situation”. An un-named barn owner stated that she has only 5 days of hay left for her hors-es but was willing to share what she had left, with another in urgent need. There are stories of operators giving up their residence and living in the dressing room of their horse trailer so they can spend their rent money on hay. The love and loyalty of the equestrian community is like no other and it extends from the dressing room living horse owner, right up the the elite of the Olympic teams. Plans are underway with the past and present Canadian Show Jumping team members who are currently gathering paraphernalia to auction off at https://www.32auctions.com
For those needing assistance, the process is fairly simple.
Barns should register on the OE website to qualify for assistance
• Apply online at fortheherd.ca
• The application will be screened and verified
• It is then entered blind into a committee comprised of non-boarding barn owners and veterinarians The assistance is to ensure that basic needs are met and each request is considered on a case by case basis.
For those looking for sponsor aid, you can also post a Free Classified Ad at horse-canada.com
Anyone that can spare funds, hay, veterinary, farrier services, feed etc., or can foster or sponsor a horse in need, is encouraged to become a do-nor/sponsor via OE and can do so by filling out an online form at fortheherd.ca
The political side of this matter can’t be forgotten either. Equestrian Cana-da has been busy lobbying government and individuals are encouraged to do the same. You can find your MP at https://www.ourcommons.ca/members/en and your MPP at https://www.ola.org/en/get-involved/contact-mpp to write to and share your concerns.
Top: Jen Sweet
Bottom: Jess Blackwood