I've read that the average adult amateur dressage rider never competes past First Level. I'm not sure if that's accurate, but it wouldn't surprise me given the time, money, discipline and training required to move up the levels. Many AA's squeeze their horse time in between school or busy jobs, chauffeuring kids, looking after aging parents, and many more responsibilities. For a lot of us, riding is an escape from the stresses of everyday life and the pressure of showing just isn't on the agenda.
Success is personal; it depends entirely on your own goals and your definition of success for yourself. That being said, I am in awe of those amateur riders who set and achieve their goal of competing at the FEI levels. So far in this Amateurs (Not) Like Us series, I have introduced you to two of them: Anne Leueen and Jennifer Black.
Today we head west to Maple Ridge, BC, to meet Elda Hajdarovac, a former eventer who developed a love for dressage and never looked back.
Meet Elda Hajdarovac
Occupation: Social Media Assistant at Simon Fraser University
Horse: Burlesque aka “Ivy” a 2005 Warmblood bay mare
When did you start riding, and specifically focusing on dressage?
I started riding when I was 7 years old. I joined a lesson string program in South Langley. From there I kind of hopped from barn to barn riding anything I could. I started focusing on dressage back in 2010 shortly after doing some eventing. My dressage coach (who is still my dressage coach) told me I had a knack for it. I really enjoyed the reward and harmony I managed to get in dressage and so I stuck with it!
Where did you find Ivy and how long have you had her?
I found Ivy about 3 years ago. At the time I had spent 6 months looking for my next dressage horse. After talking to my coach about holding off buying she had mentioned I should try one of the broodmares that were for sale at the barn I was riding at. I gave it a go and instantly fell in love with her.
Who do you train with?
I started my dressage career with Kiersten Humphrey, a Grand Prix rider and Equine Canada level 2 certified coach way back in 2010 when I was still eventing. Shortly after training with her she showed how fun and rewarding dressage can be and so I decided to fully switch over to the discipline. Since then its been 10 whole hearted years with Kiersten. Our lasting coach/student relationship is sure something I am proud of!
What were your goals then and how have they changed?
I knew I wanted to both train and compete in dressage. I didn’t really have a specific goal in mind other than riding the best I could and hopefully progressing through the level. Very early on Kiersten kept saying I had talent and that she sees me going far. I have to say I didn’t really think that was possible. However, as the years went by (with numerous lessons and horses under my belt) this once distant vision started becoming a reality. It wasn’t until I bought Ivy that I really started getting serious about my riding and had the itch to succeed and compete at the FEI level. Eventually my goal is to compete at Grand Prix. I am confident to say that with Kiersten’s help I will get there in no time.
What is your competitive highlight so far?
My biggest competitive highlight was doing my first PSG debut just this past weekend. Putting that tailcoat on and riding down the centre line was always a dream of mine and it finally came true! It is such a pleasure and honour to ride at such a high level. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for myself and my mare.
What have been the biggest obstacles / setbacks for you?
As an amateur, I think the biggest obstacle for myself was, as most would agree, finding the time and money to compete and keep my training up. Until last month I was a full time university student. As many of you know being a student you don’t make a lot of money or really have time with the endless assignments, essays, and exams. Despite this, I worked two jobs most of my time at university and pulled endless all-nighters to complete my homework. I was lucky enough that my professors in my program were extremely understanding with respect to my competitions and training and were happy to give me extensions when needed. Although there were times when I was writing essays in front of my show stall, haha.
Another obstacle that was hard for me to overcome was my mental attitude towards my training and progress. Moving up is no easy feat, but I think moving up to the FEI level is a whole other ball game. Not only are you asking more of your horse, but of yourself. Expectations are higher and with it the degree of technicality and precision. Every ride you have to come in with your “A game” and if you don’t it can all easily go down the crapper. Don’t get me wrong there are days where I feel like an 8 year learning how to sit the trot again, but the good rides definitely outweigh the bad. Learning how to control myself under pressure has been a large obstacle in my riding, but it also has allowed me to come a long way in my riding.
What's the best advice you can offer to other amateurs with competitive goals?
My most important advice for amateurs is commitment. Saying you want to ride at a level is one thing, but training is another. Progress isn’t always about going upwards, sometimes you go sideways, or even backwards. What is the most important thing you have to remember is there is light at the end of the tunnel. Also, find a coach that works well with you, but also don’t give up on that coach when it gets tough. They are coaches for a reason and see much farther into the future than you do. What seems like a giant feat now will feel so small in 6 months or a year from now. My coach once told me a perfect analogy when it comes to training. She said: “think of riding like you are painting a picture. Like an artist, the coach focuses on the fundamental techniques of the art form. Although in the moment you may not know what you are ‘painting’ or working to, rest assured the work will all fall into place! As you near the end you begin to see the bigger picture and all the hard work, dedication, and training that is put into the beautiful picture.” All in all, trust your horse, your journey, your coach, and most importantly yourself!
As part of my new affiliation with Breeches.com, from time to time they send me products to test out and review. How cool is that? I'm under no obligation to provide a positive review; they want my genuine, honest feedback and that's exactly what your'e going to get.
The first item they sent couldn't have come at a better time. We've been having a heat wave in Ontario that feels like it's lasted for two months already. Temps are above 30 most days with humidex values often in the 40s. Even riding first thing in the morning doesn't really help beat the heat, so I was excited to try this Equine Couture Ladies Giana short sleeve show shirt. It features a large mesh panel across the back for ventilation, and is made with moisture-wicking "Equi Cool" fabric.
The shirt is simple and stylish with clean lines and a sporty look, thanks to the tech fabric and quarter zip. Definitely nice enough to wear at a show or clinic, but plain and comfy enough for everyday schooling. The logo is subtle and not too big. Overall a nice modern update on the classic short sleeve show shirt.
Fit and function
The cut is on the long side, with the bottom sitting closer to the hip than the waist; a length I prefer to avoid any riding up or gapping between the shirt and my breeches. The fabric is not as stretchy as I thought it would be, but it's very lightweight and quite comfortable. Perhaps because of the lack of stretch, it fit me a bit on the small side. In most brands I wear an XL on top, but in this particular product I would be more comfortable in an XXL. One of the things I really appreciate about this line of apparel is their inclusive sizing; the shirt is available from XS to XXXL. Have a look at the sizing chart and if you are in doubt, I'd recommend going up one size.
Did it keep me cool? Honestly nothing can keep me cool when it's 33 degrees outside, except relaxing in the shade with an ice cold gin & tonic. But the fabric does dry quickly, avoiding that gross, damp, sticky feeling. The large mesh panel at the back does encourage airflow, which gives the illusion of feeling cooler, at the very least. I think that feature would be particularly helpful under a show jacket on a hot day.
Would I recommend it?
Yes - although not as stretchy and comfortable as some other tech fabrics I've tried, this shirt gets bonus points for the ventilated back panel, and for coming in a wider range of fabrics and being priced more affordably than many similar show-appropriate shirts.
Want 20% off?
Breeches.com has given me a special code to offer 20% off to Canadian Dressage Addict readers. Full disclosure - I get a small portion of the proceeds from any order that includes my code. No pressure, no obligation. But if you like cool horse stuff, and you like saving money, please feel free to use the code AKREAD20. The discount will apply to your entire order.
Over the past few years, I have met some amazing Canadian riders who have impressed me with their accomplishments, whether reaching the highest levels of FEI competition or overcoming incredible personal challenges just to get in the saddle. I wanted to profile some of their achievements and their stories, so decided to to start a new blog series called Amateurs (Not) Like Us.
If you missed the first installment featuring Jennifer Black, check it out. Today I'm excited to introduce you to an inspirational rider named Anne Leueen. Many of you already know her and her horse Biasini from her popular HorseAddict blog. Anne is a wonderful source of information, news, training advice and really all things dressage, but she's also a highly accomplished re-rider who has found success in the FEI ring in her 70s. How does this self-described "vintage rider" do it? We asked her:
When and why did you start riding?
I started riding when I was about 7 at a dude ranch in Arizona while we were on holiday. I started to ride on a regular basis at age 10. I went after school with a friend and my parents leased a horse for me.
When and why did I start to focus on dressage?
I never imagined I would focus on dressage . As a teenager I was eventing at Pebble Beach and I thought dressage was a joke. I had a 30-year gap from age 19 to 49 when I did not ride. When my daughter started she was interested in dressage, and by then I was 50 so I thought it would be more sensible if I did not jump and tried dressage instead.
What were your initial goals?
Initially I just thought I would like to get back to competing. After a couple of years I set my sights on the Prix St-Georges. When I told my 10-year-old daughter this she burst out laughing.
How have those goals changed over the past few years?
I rode my first PSG in 2013. Then my horse got ill and had to be put down. I was heartbroken as we had come up the levels from Training to PSG together. I got another horse and within six months I lost him as well. I thought about stopping riding but realized that if i gave up horses I was going to get old quickly. That was when I got Biasini. I do not have the goal of getting to the Grand Prix. I am currently 71 and Biasini is 15, so that would be an unrealistic goal. And that's fine with me. We are currently competing at the I-1 level and I am aiming for the Century ride, where the horse and rider's ages added together equal 100. Dressage Canada does not have this award yet., so I am going to go about getting that set up for myself and other elder riders!
You have dealt with some serious health challenges; how have they affected your riding?
The year my daughter started riding I was diagnosed with Systemic Scleroderma, an autoimmune disease in the same family as Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis. I was pretty ill, with all my joints inflamed and skin thickened and tightened all over my body. It can also affect the lungs , kidneys and heart, but I was lucky and did not experience that.
I started back riding to share a leased horse with my daughter. The Scleroderma stopped progressing, but then I was diagnosed with colo-rectal cancer. I had a major surgery to have several working parts removed, and now have a permanent colostomy. The year after the cancer surgery my Scleroderma began to go into what the doctors described as a "dramatic" remission. Today I have only minor symptoms. I was not then and am not now on any medication that would have caused this improvement. My "miracle cure" was that I bought myself a horse! That was 20 years ago.
How do you define success at dressage for yourself?
This is a tough question. I do not measure it by my test scores. I think I measure it by achieving improvements in the things I am working on with my coach.
As an amateur what have been the biggest obstacles to success?
I have to say I have not really encountered any obstacles as an amateur rider. The USDF has awards to encourage amateurs and older riders. I have my Masters Challenge awards for riders over 60 right up to the FEI level. It is nice to have something to work towards and fun to get a nice diploma, elegant picture frame, and a medal.
What have been the most helpful tools or strategies in achieving success?
Good coaches! To me there is nothing more important than investing in good training. I am very lucky to have a very good coach in Florida, Luis Denizard ,and my home coach here in Ontario is [Canadian Olympian] Belinda Trussell. She had Biasini from the age of 4 until I bought him at 9. So I have had the benefit of a well-trained horse. He's not an easy horse to ride, but is very well-trained. Also Belinda does not treat me like a 70-year-old rider and she pushes me to do better and then even better.
What is your career highlight to date?
Last year Biasini and I were the Reserve Champions of the Adult Amateur division at Intermediare 1 in the White Fences Championship Series in Florida. This year we were Reserve Champions for the FEI Freestyle. I celebrated both of those.
Biggest setback to date?
To be honest any setbacks I have had have not been that bad. I'm not just being a social media Pollyanna about this. I am extremely fortunate and my setbacks are just first-world problems.
What's the most important advice you can give fellow amateurs?
Get the right horse for where you are now. Don't get sucked in to getting a big fancy mover when what you need is a sensible horse that you can enjoy. The horse I came up through the levels with was not a big fancy mover, but he was consistent and he gave me confidence. We learned together. I would not be able to ride a horse like Biasini if I had not had Tommie. And when you get the right horse, make sure you have access to a good coach and trainer who can help you achieve your goals. Finally, especially if you are older, it is paramount to maintain a very good level of fitness. I have to be fit to be able to ride well. We all do.
Hopefully after this strange and stressful spring we have all been reunited with our horses now and everyone is adjusting to the new “normal” as we figure out a way to adapt to the threat of Covid-19 while enjoying summer fun at the farm. How’s it going at your barn? Depending on where you live, what kind of program your barn runs, and what the physical set up looks like, I hear the situation varies greatly from barn to barn.
Many people have asked how we coped with coronavirus restrictions at the barn where I board and I’m happy to share, but with one major caveat: what works at our barn may not work for another. Every set up is different and barn owners / managers have to figure out the best way to protect themselves, staff, boarders and students. I board at a small, private barn. There are no beginners, no kids, no group lessons, and no difficulties in maintaining physical distance from others at all times. Here’s how it played out from March until now:
Phase 1: Lockdown
Like many stables in Ontario, ours followed the recommendations put out by Equestrian Canada and Ontario Equestrian, allowing only essential staff on the property initially. The majority of boarded horses there are in a full training program so they continued to be groomed and worked lightly 4-5 days a week by staff during the lockdown. The retirees and those not in training enjoyed a vacation with plenty of turnout. Staff provided photos and videos to owners several times a week, and kept us updated via a private Facebook group and weekly group video chats.
Phase 2: Weekly wellness checks
When it became clear that the restrictions were not going to end after the first month, our barn owner decided to allow boarders once a week wellness checks with our horses as part of the essential care the animals require. These were held outside only, with no access to the barn, rings, or other facilities. One-hour visits were strictly scheduled with gaps between each visitor to prevent overlap, and detailed protocols in place for hand and car sanitizing, glove use, the use of our own leads and grooming equipment, and an outdoor dropbox for safe delivery of medications, supplements, and other supplies. Grooming in the paddocks and hand grazing in designated areas were allowed on days the weather and horse behaviour permitted; riding and lungeing were not.
Phase 3: Return to riding
Whrn the solicitor general finally clarified that boarders in Ontario were allowed to access their barns and to ride their horses, we were ready. Our trainer and barn staff had been drafting schedules and protocols for weeks, hoping that we would soon get the green light to resume riding.
Boarders were allocated 90 minutes total on the property, including grooming, tacking up, riding, and untacking. Gaps were scheduled in between each visit to avoid more than 5 people being on the property at once. Other restrictions included a maximum of two visits per week per boarder, all tack and equipment kept in boarders’ cars, and access only to the grooming stalls and the outdoor arena.
We had originally discussed grooming and tacking up outdoors, but with our grooming stalls located next to the double main doors and offering plenty of space and ventilation, the barn owner felt that would be a safer location for both horses and riders. We were meticulous about not sharing any equipment and about disinfecting the crossties and grooming stalls after each use.
Phase 4: Gradual return to “normal”
When the provincial government announced that riding stables and lessons were allowed to resume operations, not much changed for us initially. We continued with our established schedules for visits and private lessons, and continued using the outdoor ring only and restricting access to facilities in the barn. The barn added signage and implemented a sign in / sign out procedure to facilitate contact tracing in the event of an infection.
When the CDC issued updated guidance showing that transmission of the virus via touched surfaces is more difficult than previously thought, the barn owner opened up more facilities to boarders including the wash stall, tack room, our individual lockers and the indoor arena during inclement weather. These changes were easily and safely accommodated thanks to our barn’s unique set up. The wash stall is separate from the rest of the barn and has exterior doors nearby on three sides, allowing for plenty of ventilation. The indoor arena also has numerous doors and windows, allowing it to be essentially open on three sides. Our tack room is a large open space with full walls of windows on two sides, and individual hooks so that nobody has to touch any equipment other than our own.
Bleach solution, disinfectant spray and sanitizing wipes are readily available in all areas, and boarders are expected to disinfect any common surfaces that we touch. The barn staff is working extra hard as well, disinfecting counters, sinks, stall latches and other surfaces throughout the day to maintain a safe environment for everyone.
We still have a schedule, handwashing and disinfecting protocols, sign in / out sheets, and everyone maintains physical distance and uses their own equipment; I expect those changes are here to stay. However, with gatherings of 10 people now allowed in Ontario, we no longer have limits on the length of our visits or number of days we can come each week. It’s a small barn with a limited number of staff and boarders; on the busiest day in normal times we’re unlikely to have 10 people there at once. In short, it’s starting to feel like normal - or at least as normal as things can be right now.
How are things going at your barn?
I’m particularly interested to hear how those with group lesson programs, trail rides, camps, or beginner lessons are coping. Are you able to provide the physical assistance needed? Are masks required in those situations? How have you adapted your programs and operations to protect staff and clients while hopefully seeing revenue levels start to rise again? If you’re reading from outside of Ontario, how do your restrictions and regulations differ? What can we learn and share with each other? Let me know in the comments below.
If you've been to a Toronto-area dressage show in the past few years, you've probably noticed Jennifer Black and her Clyde / Hackney cross Brixton. At 17.3, his size alone makes him hard to miss. With few amateurs competing at the FEI levels, and even fewer of them doing it on a draft cross, the pair stands out from the crowd.
I've enjoyed watching this pair with amazement (and no small amount of envy) as they moved up the levels consistently year after year, conquering a new level each year. In 2018 they made their FEI debut at PSG and Brixton was named Small Tour Horse of the Year by Equestrian Canada. Last year they moved up to the I1 level and Jennifer was EC's Reserve Small Tour Rider of the Year.
For the last two years I have had the pleasure of boarding at the same barn as Jennifer and Brixton, and watching them train in person. And now it's my pleasure to introduce them to you!
Meet Jennifer Black
Horses: Brixton (2010 Clyde x Hackney gelding), Modern Art aka Momo (2018 Hanoverian filly)
When did you start riding, and specifically focusing on dressage?
I started riding when I was 6, doing pony club, then hunters, then eventing. I started focusing on dressage in 2013 after a 10-year hiatus from riding while I was in university. I knew I wanted to show and dressage was my way to do that.
Where did you find Brixton and how long have you had him?
I bought Brixton in 2013 from his breeder (Shady Maple Farm) as 2-year-old. I chose a draft cross because I wanted an A+ temperament, meaning if I couldn’t ride for weeks, I could get on and not die.
Who do you train with?
I started Brix under saddle on my own. I was looking around the internet and saw a video of Meredith Risk competing with a Clyde / Hackney cross named Jacob in the I1. I thought why can’t I do that? So when he was almost 4 we started training with Meredith at Nobleton Dressage, and we've been there ever since.
What were your goals then and how have they changed?
My initial goals were to give Brix a good foundation and hone my own dressage skills, and maybe get out to a few schooling shows. When I evented, dressage was something you suffered through to get to cross country. I knew there had to be more to it than that.
Once we started training and competing, my goal changed to seeing how far we could go together. And level after level he kept surprising me, and I kept surprising myself. Our first show at Training Level was in 2014 when Brix was turning 4, and we made our FEI debut at PSG when he was 8. I'm very proud of that progress. My personal goals now are to do a decent Grand Prix at some point, whether it’s on Brixton, or Momo, or another horse.
What is your competitive highlight so far?
My biggest highlight was probably the Saturday I1 at Angelstone last August. I rode a pretty great test (almost clean) and could have cried when I was leaving the ring. It kind of felt like it all came together and Brix tried extra hard for me. It was pretty special.
It's quite rare for an amateur to progress up the levels this far and this quickly, let alone on an "off breed" horse. What's the secret to your success?
Success is progress. Some days that’s nothing more than bending your left elbow and some days it’s getting a clean line of twos.
The biggest factors in attaining success for me have been having an excellent, supportive trainer, and clearly defined goals. Make sure you have a trainer who repeatedly produces the results that you want to attain, both in their own horses and with other amateur clients . Do you like the way the horses go? Do you like the way the trainer rides? Do you share the same philosophy?
You also have to ride as often as you can. Just keep showing up, even when it gets hard. You won’t get to where you want to be without putting in the work.
With respect to preparing for horse shows, watch the pros ride tests in person or on YouTube, including the lower level tests. You may not have the same fancy mover but there is a lot to learn, for instance how they ride their lines, and where they start their movements. It’s a wealth of information.
What have been the biggest obstacles / setbacks for you?
As an amateur, the biggest obstacles are always time and money. Not only does it cost money to care for a horse, and to pay for good quality lessons, training show fees and more, when I am riding, I’m not billing, so I’m not getting paid.
I’ve learned that there are actually enough hours in the day if you wake up early enough. Being super organized helps as well, and planning your day/week out in advance. I also find that riding and being around horses in general gives me the energy to do a great job for my clients, and to be organized at home (although my husband would like to have me around more). Inevitably you will miss social events and get home later than you’d like.
For competing, I save most of my vacation time for the summer so I can have days off before and after the horse show, which makes it less stressful. I am lucky to have a somewhat flexible schedule, and a trainer who will accommodate me. Also if I can’t ride, I know my horse is getting a good training session in with Meredith.
I have been lucky with only a few setbacks with Brix. I had one really bad test in July last year. About 50 people were watching and I could barely keep him from barrelling through the ring. We pretty much just rode the pattern and kind of did some of the movements. I let myself cry for 5 minutes, and then gave him two days off, and then rode the test in my first lesson back. I immediately felt better.
The biggest setback is that Brix currently has an injury. He is supposed to come back 100% but it is hard to lose the season (even if there is no show season due to COVID) and it will be particularly hard getting him in shape again.
What's the best advice you can offer to other amateurs with competitive goals?
My most important advice for amateurs is to (1) work with a good trainer and (2) just ride as often as you can.
Make the time, even if it means waking up at 4:30 am to get to work early so you can make it to the barn in time for a lesson. Don’t miss an opportunity to train if you can help it. And most importantly, enjoy and spend time with your horse; they’re not machines
.Writing for a number of equestrian magazines has given me the amazing opportunity to meet, interview, and feature some of my dressage idols. Almost all the articles I write are about professionals competing at the highest levels of the sport, or rising stars working their way onto the international scene. They are incredible and inspiring athletes, but not necessarily relatable to the average amateur on a budget, with a less than fancy horse, juggling to fit lessons, training time and shows in around work, family, and other commitments.
Amateurs like us represent by far the majority of dressage riders in Canada. Many of us will never compete any higher than First Level - if we even compete at all. We do the best we can with what we have, setting goals that fit our skills, budgets, and available time. If we meet our goals - whatever they may be - then we are successful and should be proud of our accomplishments, no matter how big or how small.
But what about the amateurs who aren't like us? Over the past few years, I have met some amazing Canadian riders who have impressed me with their accomplishments, whether reaching the highest levels of FEI competition or overcoming incredible personal challenges just to get in the saddle. I wanted to profile some of their achievements and their stories, so decided to to start a new blog series called Amateurs (Not) Like Us.
The first amateur in the series has inspired and influenced me personally, so stay tuned for the first installment, featuring Jennifer Black and Brixton. And if you know an incredible Canadian amateur with a great story to share, please let me know!
I try hard to keep this page a positive place, but every once in a while I see something that shouldn’t be ignored. It’s time to re-share this great blog called "Please don't suck when you go to the barn," from Jorna Taylor because, based on what I’m seeing out there, a LOT of people are really sucking right now.
So many posts and comments on Facebook, Instagram and horse forums complaining about barn schedules, rules, and restrictions - the schedules, rules and restrictions designed to keep the very people complaining about them safe!
Two weeks ago, a lot of us in Ontario didn’t even have access to our horses. Now stables here are open for boarders and lesson students alike. We should all be over the moon. Instead people are whining about what they can’t do and what’s not allowed, or bitching that Barn A is doing one thing and Barn B isn’t.
Everybody needs to take a deep breath and put themselves in their barn owner’s shoes. No two barns are alike; no single set of policies or recommendations is going to work for every barn. If your barn owners / staff are older, immune compromised or otherwise at higher risk for COVID-19, your barn will probably have more restrictions. If your tack room is tiny and unventilated, or if you don’t have grooming stalls or wash stalls with adequate physical separation from the rest of the barn you probably don’t have access to them right now. Maybe you’re keeping your tack in your car. Maybe you’re grooming outside. That’s ok.
Whatever policies your barn staff have put in place are for their safety and yours. You don’t have to agree with them, but you do have to abide by them for a while or find somewhere else for your horse to live. Their barn, their rules.
This is not business as usual and very little in our world is even close to “normal” at the moment. Maybe it never will be. Having even an hour of barn time feels like a vacation from the craziness of the past 2 months. It’s a privilege that should be cherished. Our horse time may not be perfect right now, but it’s a whole lot better than nothing.
So please, even if you are feeling frustrated, cut your barn staff some slack. Appreciate their desire for caution stems from a desire to keep everyone safe. Think about the pressure and responsibility weighing on their shoulders, and how they would be affected both personally and financially should a disease outbreak be linked to their business. Instead of bringing them complaints, bring them a bottle of wine and say thanks.
Please don’t suck. And if you’re lucky enough to live in a province where barns are open, please enjoy your horses.
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.
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!
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.