Thought of the night (and a picture of my cute horse just for attention): not all of us are going to come out of this crisis ok. And I’m not talking about people getting sick or dying, although statistically, that will happen too.
There are a lot of wonderful stables, coaches, and lesson programs already hanging by a financial thread at the best of times, in order to keep costs down for students and clients.
Thousands of saintly school horses across the country still need to be fed and cared for, even as their facility’s income dries up overnight.
Boarders who scrimp and save every penny just so their horse can live somewhere with quality, trustworthy care may soon be forced to choose between paying board and buying groceries as work closures and layoffs spread across Canada.
Many barn owners and managers will keep feeding and caring for these horses, covering boarders’ and school horse expenses out of their own pockets even as their bills don’t get paid, because they don’t want the animals to suffer.
The financial support measures announced by our federal government will help, but are probably not enough for a lot of people.
What can we do as a group of horse owners and lovers? Besides paying our board and training bills on time (for those of us who can) I wish I knew.
At one end of the spectrum, we’ve got people wondering how to keep food on their own tables and hay in their horses’ bellies. At the other end of the spectrum, there are a lot of very wealthy people competing in our sport, as well as working behind the scenes to financially support elite riders and competitions.
What about all the funds that would normally have been spent to get an army of Team Canada riders, grooms, and officials to the Olympics this year? Assuming the Games get cancelled, where does that money go?
Is there a way to redirect some of the funds that would have gone towards national teams, class sponsorship at shows, and elite rider support back into the grassroots of our sport in these extraordinary times? I have no idea what that would look like - perhaps an centralized emergency assistance fund managed by Equestrian Canada? An “adopt a schoolie” program where people could donate online to their local riding schools? I saw that idea proposed on Facebook and loved it.
Even in these trying times, many of us could spare $10 or $100 to help bridge the gap for those in need right now. And let’s be honest; many people involved in dressage could afford to spare a LOT more.
I don’t have any answers, only questions. As we hunker down for what may be months of restrictions, barn closures, and self-isolation, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how we can pull together right now. Hope springs eternal, right?
Self isolation- day 87.
Just kidding. Today is Friday. I’ve only been working from home since last Saturday and was last at the barn on Tuesday, but it FEELS like 87 days so far. If I’m not divorced or in jail facing homicide charges at the end of it for strangling my husband, please congratulate me. And I’m sure he feels the same! Losing access to my horse has made me much less pleasant to live with. At least his Mustang lives in the garage and he can take it out for a run every day.
It feels like such a first-world problem to whine about missing my horse, but I do. And selfishly, the one good thing to come out of this whole awful situation was the opportunity to fit a lesson in every day while working from home. I genuinely believe I was on the verge of becoming slightly less incompetent in the saddle. Oh well. There are bigger problems out there.
Aside from the whole global pandemic / threat of potentially fatal disease thing, there is the economic fallout to worry about. People in almost all industries except deliveries are being laid off and seeing their income dry up, while their bills keep coming in. This is particularly scary in our industry, where most equestrian facilities struggle in a good year just to break even. Horses still need to eat, shavings still need to go in the stalls, and hay isn’t going to suddenly get cheaper. Lesson income is now gone, and as more people face job reductions and losses, boarders will struggle to pay their bills. It’s a vicious cycle and I’m not sure where it will end.
The state of emergency rules in Ontario have equestrians confused and wondering whether their barn really needs to close to everyone except staff, or whether sensible hygiene precautions and social distancing are enough. I can’t say yes or no; all I can do is share today’s statement from Equestrian Canada which includes the following advice:
“EC and the PTSOs recommend that facilities that host equestrian-related activities only allow personnel needed to take care of the facilities and our equine partners on their premises. This includes facility owners, facility managers, equine caretakers, providers of equine-related essential services (e.g. veterinarians, farriers), and boarders or owners providing equine-related minimum standards of care*. Non-essential personnel, including students, friends, family, the public, and boarders or owners who are not providing equine-related minimum standards of care* are encouraged to remain off the premises.”
*For reference, by “minimum standards of care” they mean the essential, basic requirements as laid out in the Code of Practice for Equine Care. If you are in a self-care barn, or your horse has complex medical needs that can’t be met by staff, you might be the one needed to provide essential care.
The staff at the barn where I board is well-equipped to provide basic care and much more. Caprice is in excellent hands. Sadly for me, based on the recommendation above, there is no reason for me to be there right now, but the barn staff is doing their best to keep us all connected by sharing photos and videos of our beloved equine partners. I am so grateful for their hard work and care. Reducing the number of people entering the property and using the facilities will help keep those workers who have to be there safe.
So for now I’m like many of you - working from home, stress-cleaning and organizing closets, enjoying long walks with my dogs, day-drinking on a regular basis, and attempting to entertain my children. Pro tip: a Disney Plus subscription for the month is the best $7 I ever spent!
Anyone wondering what best practice for stables during these times are, here are some basic procedures everyone should consider implementing. The wonderful owner, trainers and staff at the barn where I board have put many of these measures in place to make sure we can all continue to enjoy our horses safely:
- limit the number of people at the barn at once (restrict visitors, postpone shows and clinics and eliminate group lessons)
- limit the length of time boarders and students can stay at the barn (staggered entries)
- no communal sharing or serving of food, beverages, serving utensils, etc.
- no sharing of equipment or supplies
- frequent cleaning of high touch areas with dish soap, water, and elbow grease, along with interim wipe downs with disinfecting wipes
- require everyone to wash their hands with soap immediately upon arrival, and to wipe down any communal surfaces they touch, such as sink handles, doorknobs, etc
- require anyone who has travelled outside the country, or who is in close contact with anyone who has travelled to stay away from the barn for 14 days.
- require anyone with symptoms of ANY illness, or those who live with someone with symptoms of any illness to avoid coming to the barn
- consider offering services such as grooming, blanket changes, lungeing, etc. if not normally offered, so that boarders who should be self-isolating don’t feel compelled to come and provide basic care
For most of us, the barn is a safe space, a little respite of sanity amid a lot of craziness. Let’s all help keep it that way!
Discussion time: The following quote came from a poster on the Chronicle of the Horse Forum, in a discussion about why so many amateur dressage riders never get past Second Level. For a lot of people it ultimately comes down to time, money, and other life priorities, and that’s ok.
The problem is when people want to progress, and invest the time, money and sweat in progressing, but still fall short of their goals. Why? Poor coaching? Lack of rider ability? Lack of horse talent? This COTH poster had an interesting perspective:
“[The riders] I refer to as the "yes buts". These are people who want dressage to do it their way. They don't want to do it dressage's way. The ones who want to go to a dressage clinic in a western saddle on a horse they trail ride 3x per week and expect the clinician to be overjoyed at the prospect of teaching them western dressage.
The ones who insist that literally every professional they see doing the sport in pictures is riding incorrectly, and that the only person they know who rides "like the old masters" is some kook down the road who "studied with Nuño", charges $75 to longe, but wont actually get on.
You're never allowed to bend the horse more than 3 degrees, or you're doing rollkur; you're never allowed to actually pull on the reins like you expect an answer, so you should just barrel around murmuring good pony good pony and hope that eventually christ will lay hands on the horse and it will start voluntarily offering a half halt that actually goes through.
They will spend yeeeaaarrrss doing the training level Olympics with these pros and it doesnt occur to them that they havent seem an actual half pass performed since the 80's.
They are so obsessed with lightness and harmony that they literally never apply an aid with enough expectation that they get an answer to progress past training level. Yes, at all levels the lightness should be feather light - but this happens because the horse knows he has to LISTEN to light aids, and isn't allowed to just ignore them for decades.“
I see a lot of this in real life, and even more of it online, where self-styled experts gleefully tear apart successful riders and coaches, despite having no track record of successfully riding, training or teaching up the levels themselves. They cling to some ideal of what “classical” dressage should be, often without any real understanding or experience in training. My coach is fond of saying “There is no such thing as ‘classical dressage’ and ‘competition dressage,’ just good dressage and bad dressage.”
There’s nothing wrong with riding at Second Level or below forever, if you are having fun. There’s nothing wrong with not competing at all, if competing doesn’t bring you joy. But if your goal is to progress, and you find yourself stuck at the same level with the same problems year after year, something has to change. It might be your mindset, your physical fitness, your time commitment, your financial commitment, your coach, or some
combination of the above.
Have you ever felt stuck in the “Training Level Olympics? What did you change in order to progress? Head over to Facebook and join the discussion already underway there, or share your thoughts in the comments below.
About the author
I'm a middle-aged, overweight, rusty re-rider who refuses to let any of that get in the way of my passion for dressage.