The province of Ontario has been under a state of emergency since March 17, 2020. And since that date, horse owners, riders, coaches, trainers, and facility operators have been in a state of confusion. Initially all indoor recreation facilities were ordered to close. Soon thereafter, all outdoor facilities - regardless of size and whether public or private - were added to the list. Equestrian Canada and Ontario Equestrian consulted with legal advisors and government representatives before issuing recommendations that under the state of emergency, riding facilities should close to boarders, unless boarders were providing essential care that couldn't be provided by barn staff. Furthermore, they clarified that "essential care" was defined by the minimum basic standards of care outlined in Canada's Equine Code of Practice.
Seems pretty clear, right?
Stables are listed as "essential businesses" allowed to operate in order to care for the welfare of the animals. They are included in the same category as aquariums and zoos, where staff are allowed to provide care, but customers / members of the public are not allowed on the property. And so the search for loopholes began. Are boarders actually members of the public? Some felt not. Is it essential for a horse's well-being to be ridden by its owner? Some felt yes. Does the five-person gathering limit mean you can have as many people on the property at once, as long as no more than five of them are gathered in the same area? Astonishingly, some people apparently think so.
There is a resource for anyone seeking clarification on which businesses can remain open and how they are to operate during this time - The Stop the Spread phone line. Several local barn
owners have called 1-888-444-3659 and the answer they received aligned with the EC recommendations: No boarders allowed on the property unless providing an essential service or medical care that can't be performed by barn staff. Feeding, mucking and turnout? Definitely essential. Hoof care and medical treatments prescribed by a vet? Essential. Weekly wellness checks by owners (if the facility is comfortable allowing it), could even be considered essential.
Seems pretty clear, right?
Other local facility owners have called the same line and the agent had no idea what the rules surrounding boarding barns should be. Some have received conflicting advice from the OPP, local by-law officers and their provincial MPPs. Our provincial and national sport governing bodies say they are advocating for us, but we have yet to receive one single, consistent, legally binding message about what is allowed.
Let's be honest - there are many people out there who simply won't believe the rules apply to them no matter what they say. While the laws are confusing, the overall message from healthcare workers and government officials has been consistent and crystal clear from the beginning: everybody should stay home as much as possible and only go out for essentials such as food, medication, and exercise / fresh air in your own neighbourhood. There is no reasonable way to stretch the imagination far enough to include group trail rides or lessons (and yes, these are happening) on a list of essential activities. I'm baffled by the people who believe the stay home messaging doesn't apply to them.
Action and answers
We need clarity and consistency as the provincial government builds a plan for gradually reopening businesses over the next few months. The best, most effective way to achieve that is for every facility operator, trainer or coach to communicate directly with their MPP. Our government members need to hear directly from the people who vote for them, and the message they receive must be clear: riding stables need to be explicitly included in the first wave of businesses allowed to re-open.
Here's what I suggest:
1. Email your MPP and cc the premier's office (List of MPPs and contact info here)
2. State your name, business name, location, number of clients and number of employees
3. Clearly outline the reasons stables should be specifically included in the first wave of re-openings.
Let's work together to create a clear, united voice and safely get back in the saddle.
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.