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In two short months, just over 30% of the $500,000 fundraising goal has been raised to help school horses that lost their jobs in March. In April, Ontario Equestrian launched For the Herd, an emergency fundraising initiative to support lesson horses and riding school facilities in Ontario, many of whom are facing the harsh realities of little to zero income and some very grim decisions.

The need is still great as many facilities on the verge of bankruptcy attempt to recover in a slow re-opening of industry. COVID-19 restrictions are just starting to be lifted but most lesson programs, summer camps and events are still not operational. Facilities that have re-opened are not back to pre-pandemic income levels due to size restrictions on gatherings, loss of clients that are still recouping from their own income loss and other challenges.

School horses are one of the most undervalued contributors to the horse industry both in the present and for the future. They are the wonderfully tolerant and patient horses that introduce new riders to the joys of riding and help them progress their skills as riders — they are as important to our industry as the “farm league” teams for the Blue Jays!

Ontario Equestrian continues to campaign For the Herd, an evolution of the ‘Helping the Schoolies’ initiative, started by farm owner, Jen Sweet to help connect sponsors with stables struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then many individuals and equine industry supporters have joined the community effort, bringing funds, services, products including much needed feed and educational resources to help barn owners stay afloat and navigate the rough waters still ahead.

For the Herd Learning Community on The Horse Portal

Equine Guelph, in partnership with Ontario Equestrian, has developed a unique learning community now open only to applicants of the For the Herd funding program at no cost.

TheHorsePortal.ca exclusive community, launched in early June, houses helpful information, interviews and resources. Expert guest speakers help connect businesses to the information that could prove vital to their recovery. Topics include nutrition, health care, farrier, pasture management, safety and prevention, risk management, financial management, future development and more. Participants are encouraged to ask questions and identify their information needs so that responses can be developed to help by our volunteers.

A private discussion area is also available to help the riding school operators work together and support each other and share ideas. Dr. Katrina Merkies and several of her Bachelor of Bio-Resource Management (BBRM) degree program students have also contributed resources and are assisting in moderating the discussion boards. For the Herd funding applicants can gain access to these specialized resources by contacting Ontario Equestrian for directions.

COVID-19 information from the Equine Information Source

The Equine Information Source is a team of students in the Bachelor of Bio-Resource Management (BBRM) degree program majoring in Equine Management who are working to provide information for equine communities dealing with COVID-19, including the Equine Guelph For the Herd Learning Community. Click here to learn more about the BBRM students involved in this project: Amanda St Onge, Elizabeth Crouchman, Caleigh Copelin, and instructor Dr. Merkies.

The students have compiled resources to highlight specific risk factors in the spread of COVID-19 in barns, creating infographics and signage that can be printed and displayed in barns, and conducting videos and interviews with industry experts on topics that will assist horse owners and facility managers during the COVID-19 pandemic. This information was presented in Equestrian Canada’s June 2020 National Equine Disease and Welfare Surveillance Call and can also be found on the Equestrian Canada website under their COVID-19 resources.