Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ontario’s equine industry has been facing unprecedented financial hardships. The equine sector in Ontario is very diverse, with significant economic and social contributions. It touches on a variety of sectors, including sport, recreation, tourism and health, only to name a few.
An equine facility’s core business can depend on ongoing interaction with the public. These services include riding lessons, summer camps, racing, rehabilitation and therapy programs and tourism. With COVID-19, horse farms and racetracks across Ontario have been forced to suspend their operations, greatly reducing monthly income, or seeing it eliminated altogether. The core workforce of these businesses are the horses, who have lost the ability to generate income due to closures of non-essential businesses, but still require daily care. The cost to keep a horse is fixed; regardless of work, a horse needs daily feed, hay, water and shelter, and regular farrier and veterinary visits to maintain health and welfare. As their source of income has disappeared, equine business owners are unable to pay for the continuous care for their horses, compromising the health and welfare of these animals. The horse industry is seeing owners cutting back on feed, rationing hay, delaying farrier visits and postponing veterinarian appointments to offset on-going expenses. Financial liquidity and adaptability are limited at this point. As equine businesses are unable to meet the monthly expenses required to care for their horses, they will be forced to make culling or euthanasia decisions of perfectly healthy, capable equines due to the sudden burden of operating costs.
According to the 2016 Census of Agriculture, almost 9,300 farms in Ontario reported having at least one horse for a total of 64,536 horses in the province. However, there is an unknown number of horses not captured by the census, as the equine industry faces sector classification and program eligibility challenges with the federal government. To qualify for Farm Business Registration in Ontario, a business must gross $7,000 in eligible farm income annually. The definition of eligible farming and farming businesses are defined by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). Currently, the CRA only recognizes maintaining horses for racing under the definition of farming, thereby excluding many other equine businesses from accessing Farm Business Registration. However, horses are classified as livestock within several pieces of provincial and federal legislation, and are significant contributors and utilizers of Ontario agriculture. There is an opportunity to help active equines (livestock bred, raised and/or cared for in an active equine facility) and active equine facilities to receive support from the federal and provincial governments by having them included in the definition of farming and farm business by the federal government. OFA, alongside our commodity partner Ontario Equestrian, have been working with the national group Equestrian Canada, and provincial and federal governments to help recognize equines as a viable component of Canada’s agricultural system. We have been asking the provincial and federal governments to help protect the health and welfare of thousands of active equines and active equine facilities during the COVID-19 crisis.
In response to the ongoing pandemic, Ontario Equestrian launched For The Herd, an emergency fundraising initiative to support lesson horses and riding school facilities in Ontario. The campaign is supported by funds and donations of supplies and services from the public to support lesson horses and riding school facilities in Ontario during this crisis. Currently at $121,000, the fundraiser has hit just under 25% of its goal as of today. For more details and to access the campaign, visit www.ForTheHerd.ca or https://www.gofundme.com/f/for-the-herd-emergency-horse-fundraiser.
On May 14, the provincial government released the list of businesses and activities permitted to resume in Phase One of Ontario’s reopening plan. Equine facilities and racetracks are included in Phase One, which will bring some relief to equine businesses struggling during the pandemic. However, it will not be business as usual. Physical distancing, gathering size and event restrictions such as disallowing spectators, and the general unease to return to public spaces will continue to put a strain on income for equine businesses for the foreseeable future. OFA, in collaboration with Ontario Equestrian, is continuing to monitor and advocate on behalf of active equines and active equine businesses. Ensuring the equine industry is recognized as a valuable contributor to the agricultural sector and to provincial and national economies will serve to protect the industry, and equine health and welfare, now and in the future.