Horse lovers going into debt as COVID-19 closures continue
Meeting basic needs of a single horse can cost hundreds of dollars a month
Business owners in Ontario's equine industry are worried about how they'll stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic — given they have more mouths to feed than just their own.
Non-essential businesses across the province were forced to shut their doors in March to halt the spread of the respiratory illness, and it's still uncertain how much longer they'll remain closed.
"Horses, they couldn't care less about a pandemic. They require their care every day, and we feed them five times a day," said Ryan Theriault, who owns Tranquil Acres, an equine therapy centre in the rural Ottawa community of Kars.
Theriault said he spends $100 a day just to feed his nine horses but doesn't qualify for the Canadian Emergency Business Account (CEBA) loan or Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) because he doesn't have a payroll.
Emily Bertrand runs the Royale Equestrian Centre and Royale Ranch in Ottawa, and while she does qualify for both CERB and a $40,000 loan through CEBA, she's worried that money won't last long.
That's because it costs $18,000 a month, she said, to care for her more than 40 horses.
"It's so stressful," Bertrand said. "I need to make my money now through the summer so I can feed the horses in the winter ... I'm not so worried about the next month or two, I'm worried about six to 12 months from now."
Can't simply sell horses
Both Theriault and Bertrand said they'd like more federal assistance for the industry, because it's not as simple as selling some of their horses to help cover the bills.
"If everyone is strapped for cash, who can buy and who can maintain and care for these horses?" said Theriault.
"Because the last thing that we want to do is sell a horse to someone that is going to neglect them and not be able to feed them and not care for them."
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Equine-focused businesses may not be eligible for some of the same government incentives that farmers or other businesses are because they may not meet certain operational criteria, said Katrina Merkies, an associate professor at the University of Guelph who specializes in equine behaviour and welfare.
Not being able to afford to care for horses could lead to them being sold to another industry, Merkies said.
"There's a whole slaughter industry that is out there for horse meat," she said. "And it would be a very sad thing to see a lot of horses entering that pipeline."