Looking for stable directives
PHOTO BY NICK ZACHARIAS
Michelle Gauthier at CMG Equestrian in Saint-Lazare says they’ll be opening a day camp this summer, in spite of the challenges of reduced numbers and increased cleaning.
With the warmer weather and new government directives, many outdoor sports and activities are once again becoming possible. According to local stable owners though, the status of horse riding schools, riding day camps and riding lessons are not all that clear. As with many things these days, the landscape is shifting quickly. As of now, summer day camps at equestrian centres have the go ahead to open June 22, but riding lessons are not permitted. Similarly, those who are boarding horses at a stable now have access to their animals, but they can’t get riding instruction while they are there.
“It’s extremely hard figuring out what we can or can’t do,” says Michelle Gauthier, who runs CMG Equestrian at Hodgson Stables in Saint-Lazare. “We’re on the list as an outdoor activity, yet we can’t offer lessons. We can only conduct what they call ‘supervised rides,’ where there’s an instructor standing there, but they aren’t allowed to instruct. They’re just allowed to supervise for safety.”
This is frustrating for stable owners, both because outdoor riding lessons would seem to lend themselves easily to social distance protocols, and because of the apparent conflict in message being sent when riding day camps, where instruction would surely be happening, are approved.
According to Richard Mongeau, Interim Director at Cheval Québec, the federation that guides and regulates riding in the province, they are working hard on the issue.
“There is almost certainly going to be some form of instruction going on at day camps, otherwise what are they for?” says Mongeau. “For lessons or equestrian schools, we are hoping to see the rules change soon.” He says they have a good line of communication with the government and they are going back and forth with them regularly to lay out the best plans. “We’ve sent out communication to over 300 instructors with protocols for operating safely, and we are planning ahead for when things open up more. We’re just waiting for the word.”
PHOTO BY NICK ZACHARIAS
Michelle and her husband Chris, owners at CMG Equestrian, are happy to be afloat but are struggling with the changing directives from the government and the local equestrian federation on what services they can offer.
Not all camps will run
With municipalities like Hudson and Pincourt cancelling day camp this summer and others uncertain, many parents will be hunting for spots for their kids. CMG Equestrian will be running their day camp this summer, with reduced group sizes to accommodate for social distancing and all the extra cleaning that will be required. Others, like Dunelm farm in Rigaud, will not.
Says Dunelm’s Duncan Oswald, “We’re not even considering day camp this summer. We’ve tentatively scheduled supervised riding for our kids with experience in June but we don’t have the people to look after an extra 20 or 30 kids, especially when you’re only allowed three in the ring at a time.” He feels that keeping kids distanced when they are out of the ring would be nearly impossible without a lot more staff, likening the scene to what it looks like when five-year-olds play soccer.
Return to sport will be interesting
Oswald says the lines are not well defined and the provincial government has been moving the goalposts. Meantime, with horse shows cancelled, they have lost the bulk of their regular revenue, unlike others that rely more substantially on borders.
“We are down to one eighth of our regular income, but the expenses don’t change. The horses still have to eat, and they still have to get cleaned up after.”
The future for stables like this looks challenging if they cannot get their show revenue back. Oswald says he’s looking forward to getting back to the show circuit but wonders how that will work when big shows like Ottawa or the Nationals in Toronto draw several hundred horses, and usually at least two people per animal.
“This is going to be a long story,” he said. “The return to sport is going to be interesting.”