Canada’s governing body for equestrian sport is expressing disappointment that horse farms were excluded from a $252 million COVID-19 support package for agri-business that was announced by the federal government on May 5.

Due to social distancing mandates during the pandemic, Equestrian Canada said horse businesses across Canada have had to shutter their lesson programs, horse shows and other ventures that generate income to support the care and upkeep of their horses.

The groups warns that without government support horse owners will “soon be facing the horrendous decision to offload perfectly healthy, capable animals into a marketplace in which supply far exceeds demand.”

According to a national survey there were about 46,500 horses and 8,500 equine facilities across Canada with less than a month of financial reserves and supplies as of April 6. Equestrian Canada is asking for $11.5 million to $13 million in relief money for these facilities.

With the lack of government help, horse enthusiasts are filling the gap in innovative ways. In Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, Ontario Equestrian has started a campaign called For the Herd. The organization is trying to raise a $500,000 fund that will provide emergency support for basic horse care needs. There are also opportunities to donate supplies and foster lesson horses through Ontario Equestrian.

Meanwhile, other lesson barns are acting independently, asking the public to foster lesson horses while they are closed. And people are stepping up.

Lise Leblanc, a horse owner and trainer in Norfolk, ON, chose to sponsor a 12-year-old Thoroughbred mare named Amy at MJM Equestrian Centre in Hanon, ON. Amy is used in the lesson program and is described as “sweet and kind as they come” and “perfect for riders of all levels.”

While Leblanc says she agrees with the restrictions put in place to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19, she worries about the impact on horses in lesson programs.

“I think it’s unfortunate that the riding lessons are stopped entirely because it will displace a lot of really good horses. They may go to auction where few people are going to be in a position to purchase. Many will potentially be sold to meat buyers,” she said.

Leblanc said she is happy that she has been able to help in some way and is looking forward to meeting Amy once the restrictions are lifted.

“Reaching out is a gesture that builds community. I’m a part of the horse community in Ontario and because I can work from home, I have the ability to help in a small way,” she said.