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Canadian horse owners could be forced to sell for slaughter as finances battered by COVID-19

Equine therapy riders in Edmonton face impacts of COVID-19 restrictions
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The governing body for Canadian equestrian sports and horse welfare is warning that without financial support, horse owners could be forced to sell their animals for slaughter as the coronavirus economic shutdown takes a toll on their bottom lines.

In a press release issued Thursday, Equestrian Canada said its members are disappointed that the $252 million in federal support for the agricultural sector announced this week didn’t include help for horse owners, whose livelihoods are suffering from shutdowns on things like horse racing and riding lessons.

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“Equine farms across Canada are currently facing unprecedented financial instability. Since all public-facing activities have stopped, many businesses are unable to pay for animal care as their incomes have largely disappeared,” said Kristy House, the group’s manager of welfare and industry.

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“Without urgent government support, many equine owners are now or will soon be facing the horrendous decision to offload perfectly healthy, capable animals into a marketplace in which supply far exceeds demand.”

Horse stable closed, and not eligible for emergency funding
Horse stable closed, and not eligible for emergency funding

The organization said it recently conducted a national survey that found that as of April 6, there were roughly 8,500 equine facilities in the country with less than a month of financial reserves and supplies.

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That puts the fates of some 46,500 horses owned by those facilities in question.

READ MORE: Equine therapy riders in Edmonton face impacts of COVID-19 restrictions

For horse owners, selling an animal at auction is almost always a last resort but is quicker and easier than euthanizing, which can cost hundreds of dollars and be an additional expense on strained finances.

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Roughly half of horses sold at auction in Canada are estimated to end up in slaughter houses or shipped live to be killed for meat abroad.

People in some Asian and European countries consider horse meat a delicacy.

House said each working horse costs around $350 per month for food and many of the Canadian equine facilities surveyed have lost between 60 to 100 per cent of their revenues from shutdowns.

“Equine business owners will do everything they can to avoid offloading horses. The reality is, they cannot afford the cost of the expenses to feed and care for them [sic] they will need to sell, donate, give away or sell to auction, which is a supply to the processing sector,” House added.

“I can assure this would not be the first choice of these farm and facility owners. Many will sacrifice their own needs, and well being to provide for these animals. We are seeing already farm owners using their personal RRSP’s and financial resources to try to save their animals and their farm.”

The organization is asking for a relief fund of $11.5 to $13 million.

House said despite the Ontario government’s Thursday move to allow some animal sports like horse racing to resume and for individuals boarding horses to visit and care for them, equine facility owners will remain in a tough position until they can get back to normal operations, like offering lessons to riders.

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“I think it will help close a bit of the gap, but puts them nowhere near where they were so will still be running a deficit until gathering size changes,” she said.

Are you an equine industry worker impacted by the coronavirus shutdown? We want to hear from you. 

Contact amanda.connolly@globalnews.ca to share your story.