Many equine businesses in Canada had one month or less of reserves to care for their animals in the face of reduced revenue because of Covid-19 restrictions, and the cost of assistance to cover the basic care of these horses would be $12.9 million per month.
This was one of the revelations revealed at the recent Equine Industry Symposium organised by the University of Guelph, and hosted in partnership with Ontario Equestrian and Equestrian Canada.
Whether facilities were financially impacted, owners were unable to take care of their horses, or students were unable to attend their lessons, the pandemic caught many people in the equine industry off guard. The symposium, run over several days, addressed these circumstances by facilitating dialogue about how the equestrian community can overcome these challenges.
The symposium focused on specific topics within the theme of Resilience: Rethinking, Restructuring, Re-evaluating due to Covid-19. The fifth annual edition of the event was held for the first time virtually in November, allowing almost 300 participants from eight countries to attend. Organisers say they will incorporate an online aspect to future symposiums.
Pandemic impact on the industry – weaknesses and opportunities
The overarching impacts of the pandemic on the equine community were explored in the initial session, with Bronwynne Wilton from Wilton Group Consulting presenting the main findings from an examination of the equine industry in Canada undertaken in March of this year. Essentially, the number of equids in Canada is unknown because of their many and varied uses which do not accurately classify them. The recommendation was to accept the term “active equine” to describe an animal who directly contributes to revenue generation in an “active equine facility”.
It was clear that the majority of equine businesses had one month or less of reserves to care for their animals in the face of revenue cessation through Covid-19 restrictions, and the cost of assistance to cover the basic care of these horses would be $12.9 million per month. Danielle Glanc from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture supported these statements, indicating that equine facility owners need to work to place active equines visibly in the agricultural sector.
Christine Reupke, organizing director of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair Horse Show, explained the impact of Covid-19 on the decision to cancel the show and steps taken to keep the Royal spirit alive through virtual events. Jonathan Zammit, CEO of Ontario Racing, focused on the impact of Covid-19 on all three racing sectors, and how the racing industry provided financial support by redirecting almost $12 million of purse money to directly offset the costs of care for horses that were no longer able to race due to closures of race tracks.
The second session discussed methods of restructuring the business for success. Dr Melanie Barham, a veterinarian and an MBA candidate with a major in Sustainable Commerce, discussed the importance of business planning, different models of business plans, as well as how these can help determine value propositions. Sean Jones, an advisor with Sun Life Financial and an avid equestrian, enlightened the audience by presenting five important considerations for business owners: revenue streams, revenue generation per horse, elimination of unnecessary expenses, virtual teaching/ monetization and emergency funding. Mike King, Partner and National Equine Industry lead at the general insurance brokerage CapriCMW Insurance Services, and Catherine Willson, a specialist in equine law, answered questions most people would have regarding risk assessment and the legal obligations that facilities face during COVID-19, as well as how businesses can protect themselves and others during this time.
Pandemic effects on equine welfare
The third session featured Equine Guelph director Gayle Ecker, who introduced the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines. This was followed by Dr Roly Owers, CEO of World Horse Welfare, who expanded on what is meant by welfare and how to monitor and meet equine welfare needs during the changing landscape of the pandemic. Finally, veterinarian Dr Bettina Bobsien tackled the difficult topic of end of life planning with consideration to ethics, quality of life, finances and contractual obligations.
Traceability and emergency preparedness
The importance of emergency preparedness and equine traceability was the focus of the fourth session. Stewart Everett, CEO of Equine Register in the UK, presented the innovative technology that not only identifies an animal, but can track movement, enter equestrian competitions, and provide secure access to health records. Dr Nic de Brauwere, Head of Welfare and Behaviour at Britain’s Redwings Horse Sanctuary, discussed the benefits of this centralized equine database including reaching owners to share relevant, trusted information and advice essential for protecting and promoting the welfare and health of their horses. Kristy House, Manager of Welfare and Industry with Equestrian Canada, followed up with plans for implementing a traceability program in Canada. Subsequent to the symposium, Equestrian Canada announced its partnership with Equine Register to launch the Canadian Equine Identification Program (CEIP).
Pandemic positives: the silver lining
Equestrian Canada’s Kristy House returned for the final evening to highlight the pandemic positives from a national level perspective as a governing body of the industry.
Both federal and provincial government recognition of the equine industry has moved forward which bodes well for the acceptance of the “active equine” definition provided earlier. Tracey McCague-McElrea, executive director of Ontario Equestrian, echoed their steps in supporting the equine industry, including the For the Herd initiative to assist riding lesson facilities during these times of financial crises. The Equine Information Source, a group of undergraduate students, demonstrated the resources they created over the summer to assist horse owners and facility managers such as infographics and short video interviews with industry professionals.
Finally, Assistant Deputy Minister Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Frédéric Seppey discussed how the government can support the equine community and how the industry is positioned to adapt to the support given.