Nova Scotia

Halifax horses are no longer sick but stables remain closed

Since three horses were diagnosed with strangles, the Halifax Junior Bengal Lancers have closed their stables. The lost revenue and high veterinary bills are putting a financial strain on the non-profit group.

The Halifax Junior Bengal Lancers will have all their horses tested to ensure they are no longer contagious

Angie Holt says it could be a while before the horses get an official diagnosis. (Sabrina Fabian/CBC)

An outdoor arena in downtown Halifax has been quieter than usual.

In May, three of the horses at the Halifax Bengal Junior Lancers were diagnosed with a highly contagious illness called strangles. Since then, they've been quarantined and the stables have been closed to the public.

One single staff member, Saskia Felderhof, has been taking care of the sick horses to prevent the spread of the disease.

"I had to follow a strict sanitization protocol, which meant dipping my feet in special solution, spraying bleach everywhere," said Felderhof. "I have a hazmat suit pretty much, rubber gloves, the whole nine yards. We took every precaution to keep this bacteria from spreading."

Saskia Felderhof is the only staff member who has been dealing with the quarantined horses. She has to be careful not to spread the disease to other horses in the stables (Pat Callaghan/CBC)

The precautions have been working. The horses are symptom-free.

But Angie Holt, the manager and head coach of the Bengal Lancers, isn't jumping for joy just yet. All 27 horses at the stables have to be tested before they can get the all-clear to reopen.

"It's too early to say right now because we're waiting on results." she said. "We're testing every single horse in the barn and if there's even a negative result, we have to set our clock back so it could be fairly soon, but it could be quite a bit longer as well."

Events cancelled

In the meantime, the organization's biggest annual fundraiser, a downtown horse show featuring horses from across the province, was cancelled.

"The bacteria can be spread indirectly, so from a person touching one of the horses, touching another horse," said Holt. "So one of the most important measures we put in place is limiting the number of people even allowed in and out of the barn."

Programs have been put on hold, such as summer camps and therapy sessions for adults and kids, said Holt. "Suspending programming meant we lost our program fees. We also run summer camps which is a big source of revenue for us."

Fundraiser launched

The non-profit organization is raising money through a Go Fund Me page. About $19,000 has been raised, but that's "a drop in the bucket," according to Holt.

The Halifax Junior Bengal Lancers have launched a GoFundMe campaign hoping to raise $30,000. (Sabrina Fabian/CBC)

"We need three consecutive rounds of testing," she said. "So that requires sedating every horse in the barn to get a sample from their throats and that gets sent to a lab where they grow culture. It's a timely process. It's an expensive process."

Holt is also disappointed the stable couldn't participate in the annual Doors Open Halifax. It's a popular spot on the tour and helps educate the public about the organization, which aims to be accessible to the general public.

Simba, this 19-year-old horse, is not one of the three horses infected with strangles. (Sabrina Fabian/CBC)

Holt said the ordeal has taught her a valuable lesson. "It's taught us if nothing else that we really need to have a better contingency fund."

The situation has put a strain on the staff, but they're hopeful things will be back to normal soon.


Sabrina Fabian is a bilingual reporter based in Halifax with more than 10 years experience. She has worked in TV, radio, online and in print. She is originally from Montreal and previously worked in Banff and Calgary.