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Equine industry representatives discuss youth engagement

Facilitator Akaash Maharaj kicks off the Equine Industry Symposium at the University of Guelph on Feb. 10. The theme of the day was youth engagement in the equine industry.  Photo by Jaime Myslik


Equine industry representatives discuss youth engagement

by Jaime Myslik

GUELPH - “We are at a turning point in the history of Ontario equestrianism,” said Akaash Maharaj at the recent Equine Industry Symposium.

“A time of both high potential and deep peril and the decisions that each of us make individually and collectively or the decisions that we fail to make over the next 10 years will undoubtedly determine whether Canada’s equine centre remains viable and acceptable.”

Maharaj acted as facilitator for the annual symposium held at the University of Guelph on Feb. 10. People from all sectors of the equine industry gathered to address ways to engage youth.

Over the last 15 years the average age of equestrians has risen from a range of 40 to 49 in the early 2000s to the 60 to 69 range in 2017.

“In essence, adults who are involved in the equine sector at the turn of the century have generally continued to be involved but we have grown older without rejuvenating the industry,” Maharaj said.

The challenge now, he said, is to find younger Canadians to be the new equestrian leaders.

Past national chair of the Canadian Pony Club Kim Leffley said engagement is one of the core challenges to bringing youth into the equine industry.

“A lot of what we hear now is focused around engaging the youth and the term ‘athlete,’” she said. “Athlete implies competition. Competition implies a win and a lose.

“We’re automatically making some delineations between people who have the ability or the desire to follow that track and the ones who don’t.”

But inclusivity is important, she said, as is the promotion the areas of the equine industry that are about more than just riding skills.

“A lot of what we hear in the industry is equestrian is all about the high performance riding,” Leffley said.

“No it’s not, it’s coaches, stable owners, breeders, racing, the farriers, that’s what keeps our industry running.”

She said the focus needs to shift away from just riding.

“We’re losing a lot of very talented people who maybe don’t have the means or the skill to do the riding thing but they have a great something to give back to our industry if we can simply engage,” Leffley said.

She said one of the keys is to engage parents.

“There’s nothing worse than a horse-crazy kid driving their parents nuts because they will go out and they’ll try to get you involved in something but they’re not even sure what’s out there,” Leffley said.

Step in Ontario Equestrian. The newly branded provincial sport governing body that was formerly the Ontario Equestrian Federation is shifting its focus to offer quality programming and a safe environment for riders.

Tracy McCague-McElrae, executive director of Ontario Equestrian, said that it’s very daunting for a parent who doesn’t have any equestrian background to try to help their child break into the sport.

Part of engaging parents is promoting accredited coaches and stables as well as Ontario Equestrian members.

This is a big focus of the new Ontario Equestrian.

Both Leffley and McCague-McElrae said it’s important for all sectors of the equine industry to work together.

“We have to get away from silos,” Leffley said. “We have to connect, build bridges.

“There are so few people and resources to go around ... that if we continually develop programs that mimic or take resources [that] replicate something that’s already out (there, it) is a complete disservice to the people that we’re trying to serve.”

McCague-McElrae said Ontario Equestrian has recently started working more closely with Equestrian Canada as well as the provincial sport governing bodies across Canada.

“Now we are working really ... cooperatively in trying to develop programs that we’re [offering] across the country, which is pretty exciting,” she said.

Other speakers included Heather Ramey from the School of Social and Community Services at Humber College, Jenny Mayer from AgScape, David Reynolds from INAC Services Ltd. and Equine  Guelph director Gayle Ecker.

In the afternoon attendees broke off into groups to discuss topics like what horse people can be doing together and what the industry is prepared to work towards achieving in the next 10 years.


February 23, 2018


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