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Canadian horse farms struggle to feed animals amid pandemic shutdown
TORONTO -- Money is running out on Canadian horse farms, where horses still need to be fed and cared for despite the halt of equestrian activity due to COVID-19.
Businesses such as riding schools, sports clubs and public petting farms are now facing a wrenching choice: to hang on, sell off, or put down the animals.
At Tranquil Acres, near Ottawa, therapy horses are trained to calm nerves. But during COVID-19, it may be their owners needing the stress relief.
With bedding, food, hoof trimming and vet visits, each horse can cost on average $350 a month. Normally, this is no problem, as the horses themselves are the core of the business, and the reason that clients come to the farm for help.
“Our clients see the horses as family, so they're not pets. These horses have helped them come through struggles with mental health,” Ryan Theriault, the proprietor of Tranquil Acres, told CTV News.
Due to the pandemic, none of their clients have been allowed on site since mid-March.
“Our expenses remain the same, and our income is at zero,” Theriault said. They have to feed the horses five times a day, he added.
More than 46,000 working horses are currently at risk across Canada.
According to Equestrian Canada, 36 per cent of horse farms say they are out of financial reserves already, and just over half only have enough supplies for another month at most.
The federal government has added $125 million to the Agriculture Recovery Fund for feeding livestock, but that only supports roughly 35 per cent of horse farmers who have a registered farm number.
Why? Because when it comes to farms centred around horses, the Canada Revenue Agency only defines it as ‘farming’ if it involves the care of race horses -- which means businesses that provide horse-riding lessons, training, boarding or therapy don’t technically qualify as farms.
Equestrian Canada says horse farms need their own bailout.
“We need something that works to the specific needs of the sectors, and we need it now,” Kristy House, manager of Welfare and Industry at Equestrian Canada, told CTV News. “They're out of resources, and it's only going to get worse.”
Many horse owners are also sole proprietors who use contractors as employees, so they can’t access emergency business loans or wage subsidies.
The Ministry of Agriculture says it hopes the $2,000 Canada Emergency Response Benefit and Rent Assistance for small businesses will help. Ottawa also says it’s raising the issue with its provincial counterparts.
But many horse owners aren’t taking chances, and are asking for help directly from the public. Tranquil Acres has put out a call on their website for clients and well-wishers to donate directly to help support their nine horse herd.
They want to be able to keep their business going -- after all, horses that help with mental health struggles may be even more important in a post-pandemic world.