Meghan Mackenzie Bell’s path from her early days in the thoroughbred breeding business to a career helping horse owners with their insurance needs might seem a bit convoluted, but it is certainly an interesting one.
Growing up in West Lorne in southwestern Ontario (perhaps best-known as a travel hockey destination and a Hwy 401 En Route stop rather than a hotbed of equestrian activity), Meghan began riding Quarter Horses at age seven. “I had a friend at school who was taking lessons from a local coach named Niki Amlin, so I went out for a test ride and was hooked,” she explains of how she caught the ‘horse bug’. “I think my mom was just looking for a sport to keep me active; little did she know what she was getting into!”
A life with horses was firmly established. “Niki happened to be a truly phenomenal horsewoman who had been AQHA Congress Queen. She and her parents became my second family and were a major inspiration to me. I rode, showed, and taught riding lessons through high school, then I went to the University of Guelph for my undergrad degree in Animal Biology and was one of the founding members of the equestrian club/team there.”
And so began a busy life of travel and work, beginning with a move to Ireland to work at Derrinstown Stud, a thoroughbred breeding farm. “After a year, I moved home to Canada to do graduate research at UofG in Reproductive Physiology. Afterward, I moved back to Ireland to work at Derrinstown Stud again. From there I moved to Kentucky to work at Lane’s End, another thoroughbred breeding farm, and then to Australia and New Zealand, working as an independent thoroughbred salesperson and a foaling attendant.”
Not surprisingly, “I ended up getting a little homesick, so I came back to Canada,” Meghan says. She worked in the thoroughbred industry here in Canada as a broodmare manager, but the farm owner decided to shutter the operation and sell his horses. “I had a hard time finding another farm that was looking for a broodmare manager and the options were to either take a step back in my career ‒ or take a sideways step into another avenue of the horse world.”
That well-chosen sidestep took her to Henry Equestrian Insurance Brokers Ltd. in Newmarket, Ontario, which has been serving the horse industry for 30 years, providing equine mortality, liability, medical and surgical insurance, liability and tack coverage, as well as other specialty products for farms and facilities. She started out as a farm broker less than six years ago, and in February 2020 became the Senior Manager of Operations.
Meghan, who is married with two children, admits, “The insurance industry was never one I had any idea about! I’d had insurance as a riding instructor when I was younger, but that was about all I knew about the intersection of horses and insurance. I was lucky that a good friend of mine, who had worked for the vet we used at the farm, had gotten a job at Henry Equestrian the year before and she thought I might be a good fit.”
And so she dove headfirst into the deep end to get up to speed with the job requirements. “I had to take my basic licencing course and the Registered Insurance Broker licencing exam. I have also gone on to complete my Canadian Accredited Insurance Broker designation and have almost completed my Chartered Insurance Professional designation. There was certainly a bit of a learning curve with understanding some of the insurance concepts, but I’ve had a lot of support from coworkers and management who have helped guide me.”
The new career direction came with some welcome benefits. “The opportunity to have regular hours and benefits –which we all know isn’t super common in the horse world, especially not as a broodmare manager – was very attractive! I also really liked the challenge of learning something new, as well as the bonus of getting to still work with horse people. I really enjoy chatting with my clients about their farms and horses. The big bonus is when I get sent photos of their animals.”
HEP was purchased by NFP Canada, an international insurance brokerage, last December. This move created the best of two worlds, according to Meghan. “They’re a known brand and we’re also a recognized brand in the equestrian industry,” she explains. “They’ve allowed us to remain really independent. As a much larger company we now have more ability to offer different insurance options to our clients, and access to brokers who can look at benefits for horse farms. A lot of people who have horses also own businesses, and now we have access to more markets and specialty lines of brokers that can insure different commercial operations.” Another potential perk is that it provides a larger financial base to be able to support the equestrian community through sponsorships.
She adds that from a personal standpoint, “There is even more support and encouragement for continuing education and mentorship, which I really appreciate.”
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into the the entire equestrian industry, which has affected the insurance business to some extent. “We’ve certainly seen changes in how our clients are working with their insurance,” Megan explains, “from trying to decrease exposures because they’re not currently doing those activities or trying to amend coverages to help their cash flow situation, which is very understandable, especially with a lot of the lesson barns. On the commercial side, no shows were being run, no clinics were being held. People were cancelling their coaching insurance because they weren’t teaching at all. So there certainly were things that we saw that weren’t terribly surprising.”
But there have been some surprises during the unprecedented coronavirus disruption as well. “It’s made us incredibly busy, perhaps more so than at any other time,” notes Meghan. “Plus we found that despite everything, people are still buying horses and farms.”
If you would like to talk to Meghan about your insurance needs, she can be reached at 905.727.1144/800.565.4321 or by email at [email protected].