Ontario supporting equine businesses impacted by COVID-19 to keep horses fed, maintained

WOODSTOCK – The Government of Ontario is spending up to $3 million through the Equine Hardship Program to help horse experience businesses cover animal maintenance costs incurred from COVID-19 disruptions.

During the pandemic many “horse experience” activities, such as riding schools, trail ride operations, and horse camps have been unable to operate, which has put these businesses and their horses in jeopardy.

“COVID-19 has disrupted many of the activities offered by horse experience operators making it challenging for some to care for their animals this winter,” said Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Ernie Hardeman.

“Our investment of $3 million will allow these businesses to keep up with the costs of animal care so they can maintain their horses and be ready for when activities can start up again.”

The Equine Hardship Program, launched on Jan. 18, will provide individual businesses offering horse related experiences up to $2,500 per horse to a maximum of $20,000 to help cover direct costs for feed, water, veterinary care and farrier services.

“Ontario Equestrian would like to thank Minister Hardeman, and the Ontario government for their dedication and support of the equine sector over the past months,” said Tracey McCague-McElrea, executive director of Ontario Equestrian.

“This funding announcement will certainly provide much needed relief to our business owners and equine farmers who have fought to maintain their herds since the beginning of the pandemic and we look forward to on-going collaboration with the government to ensure sustainability and growth for the sector.”

Horse experience businesses will be eligible for funding if they earned at least 50 per cent of their revenue in 2019 from horse experience activities, their 2020 revenue was less than half of what was earned in 2019 due to the pandemic, and they attest they are facing hardship as a result of COVID-19 that will make it difficult to care for the horses.

The Equine Hardship Program was specifically designed for horse experience businesses that are not eligible for other agriculture related programs that help farmers manage risk such as the Risk Management Program and AgriStability.

The funding is in addition to the government initiatives launched this year to assist the agriculture sector in meeting challenges related to the COVID-19 outbreak, including:

– the $25.5 million Agri-food Prevention and Control Innovation Program to help reduce disruptions in business operations and risks of COVID-19 exposure in the workplace;

– the launch of a portal to connect farms and other agri-food sector business with labour needs to job seekers;

– the creation of a $26.6 million Enhanced Agri-food Workplace Protection Program in partnership with the federal government; and

– the investment of an additional $50 million into the Risk Management Program for 2020, one year earlier than originally promised.

There are approximately 150 horse experience businesses in Ontario including more than 50 horse camp or trail ride operations, at least 15 carriage operators, at least 14 therapeutic riding centres and many riding schools. These businesses also include horse drawn carriage or sleigh rides.

Under the Equine Hardship Program, costs incurred between March 17, 2020 and Feb. 28, 2021 will be eligible. Enrolment and claim forms will be accepted until March 12 or while program funding remains available, whichever comes first.

Learn more and apply at http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/about/equinehardship.htm.