An officer with the Toronto Police mounted unit says "it's going to take a lot of time" before for the owners, trainers and riders stop grieving for the more than 40 racehorses that were killed overnight in a fire at a stable and training facility in Puslinch, Ont.

The fire tore through Classy Lane Stables and Training Centre, 15 kilometres east of Cambridge, late Monday and into Tuesday. While the exact number of horses that died remains unclear, Barb Millier, one of the facility's owners, said it is at least 43.

Losing a horse is like losing a family member, according to those who own and work closely with the animals. The relationship between horse and rider is a close one, says Toronto police Sgt. Kristopher McCarthy.

Sgt. Kristopher McCarthy

Sgt. Kristopher McCarthy of the Toronto Police Mounted Unit says those who work with horses share the grief of the owners, trainers and riders after more than 40 horses died in a fire in Puslinch, Ont., overnight. (CBC News)

"Every day it's a rider trust relationship with the horse," McCarthy told CBC News on Tuesday.

Officers like McCarthy spend hours with their horses. He says even grooming "is a bonding process." An officer can immediately tell when his or her horse is having a bad day, he says.

Horses perish in Puslinch barn fire

More than 40 race horses died in a barn fire in Puslinch, Ont., overnight from Monday to Tuesday. (David Ritchie/CBC)

"They're a little more stubborn, they don't want to do things, their ears are pinned back or they're gnawing at their bit, not responding to what you're asking," McCarthy says. "It's in every one of us."

The relationship is so close that fellow officers tease McCarthy that Honest Ed, a horse he hasn't ridden in 10 years, is still his favourite.

The loss of an animal is felt by the entire unit, he says. On Christmas Day, a 19-year-old horse named Viscount died.

"It's a loss that goes through the entire barn," McCarthy says.

He and his fellow officers feel for the owners, trainers and riders at Classy Lane.

"You also grieve for the lives of 40-plus horses that perished in a barn fire," McCarthy says. "It's a tragic event that no one wishes upon anybody.

"It's something that's going to take a lot of time to get over that grief, for sure."