Barn managers have set up new policies and have new daily schedules now that clients and boarders are staying at home. There’s LOTS of cleaning going on but also trail riding, special projects, and an assessment of supplies.
Francesca Mulligan is the trainer at Stoney Fields, a 12-stall facility in Nobleton, Ontario, that currently operates with two staff members. “As we are a small operation with a limited number of essential care workers, it is reasonably easy for us to take certain precautions,” explains Mulligan. “With no more than three people circulating through the barn daily, the risk is much lower. General steps have been taken to ensure cleanliness and eliminate the risk of germs ‒ extra washing and sanitation products, disinfectant to wipe and spray down supplies, and rubber gloves to keep things safe around the stable. What it really comes down to is attentiveness, diligence, and a responsible routine. All of my staff feels safe and comfortable in the environment we have created, and if at any time that changes, they can stay home as is their right.”
Mulligan is also conscious of the overburdened supply chain. “As the Canadian people have been asked by their government and retailers to not overstock in their homes and limit supply, I have taken the same approach in the stable. Our deliveries have increased slightly each week, but not enough to limit the supply to others. We felt adding to our inventory gradually over the course of the last few weeks was the best way to proceed. There is so much uncertainty when it comes to supply, inventory and deliveries from our equine retailers. The desire and need to be prepared is definitely in all of our minds. We are very grateful to the hay, feed and shaving suppliers who continue to make deliveries and do their best to make sure our equine partners are fed and bedded.”
Absolute Equestrian Centre
Samantha Eberl is the barn manager at Absolute Equestrian Centre, a facility with 19 horses, three full time and two part-time staff, located in Beeton, Ontario. “Staff each have their own grooming supplies that get washed regularly, and we have daily conversations about what more we can do to protect ourselves as this situation develops, both in and out of the work place,” says Eberl. “We’ve always had an exceptionally safe working environment, and the staff’s health and safety has always been of the utmost importance to us. Without a healthy staff, care for the horses suffers.”
She comments that while it is strange not to see boarders and clients at the barn every day, life has not changed much for the horses. “I’m sure they miss their people, but they are still getting lots of attention and treats. We try to send the owners pictures and videos when we can. Our clients and staff have been very understanding, and we remain grateful to them for putting our staff’s health first ‒ which allows us to continue the high-level care for their horses.”
Jaclyn Tattersall, the trainer at Absolute, has cancelled her training rides at other facilities, which allows her to dedicate more time to riding the horses at home – especially important this time of year when turnout footing isn’t always ideal. “The training horses are getting ridden as much as they would normally,” she explains. “I am riding some of the older horses more often than I normally would so they can keep conditioning and get the attention they would miss from their owners. Retirees and lay-ups are receiving the same care and treatments as normal. But,” she emphasizes, “the main goal right now is to ensure the staff and myself stay healthy. At the start of this I asked the staff to follow the proper social distancing measures and I am continually checking in that they are comfortable with the protocols that they and the other staff are taking.”
Little Creek Equestrian LLC
Louise Persson is the manager for Tiffany Foster’s Little Creek Equestrian LLC in Wellington Florida and Vrasene, Belgium, a stable of 16 horses with a staff of five grooms. The structure of the program with one groom per client ensures a baseline level of social distancing for the staff, most of whom live on the property.
“We are not going anywhere except between our home and the barn,” explains Persson. The Little Creek horses were initially scheduled to fly back to Europe at the beginning of April, but will now stay at Foster’s base in the United States for the time being. “All the shows on our schedule have been cancelled until July,” explains Persson, “and since we don’t really know when our life will go back to normal, the horses are enjoying some downtime with days off in the paddock and trail rides. We have been busy cleaning up the barn and catching up on some extra projects; walls have been scrubbed, show tack has been oiled and there is not one piece of equipment that hasn’t gone through the wash.
“No one has ever experienced something like this before, so we all try to stick together as a team and we all feel very lucky to be able to continue working and living a relatively normal life at the barn. It’s definitely a big change for everyone to not have any shows on the schedule, but we are trying to enjoy this downtime and spend quality time with our amazing horses.”
Cathy Inch is the trainer out of Foothills Farm in Chelmsford, Ontario. The facility has close to 40 horses with three full-time and three part-time staff. A small number of horses just returned from Florida have been put into a 14-day isolation, and the facility is fortunate enough to have a separate barn to house those horses.
“I know that horses cannot spread the disease, but it does allow the two grooms that were in Florida, as well as myself, to access that barn so that we all comply with the 14-day isolation period,” explains Inch. “It means there is plenty of staff for those four horses,” she laughs.
Inch also acknowledges the role professionals play in guarding against overloading the already overworked medical system in a profession with many assumed risks. “After my isolation period is up, I do plan to ride; however, any young horses or horses in training are on hold. For sure I will stay careful as I know the hospitals are operating at capacity, however I’m always careful ‒ I avoid trouble at all costs and I have always minimized risks.
“We are all in the same boat,” says Inch. “Everyone of us will be affected by this world event, not just horse people but every business and every individual. For now, it is out of our control and we are wishing all of the families and individuals affected by this horrible virus all the best. We will do our best to prevent the spread ‒ that is our number one focus.”
In any time of uncertainty, the dogged determination of horse professionals to ensure high standard of care is not surprising. But what is shared by trainers and barn managers goes beyond responsibility of care to the horses and extends to the protection of staff and well wishes to those affected by the virus.
“I think I can speak for our industry as a whole when I say thank you to our clients for their understanding in this uncertain time,” says Mulligan. “Thank you to all the stable workers and grooms for continuing to care for our equine partners, as well as the vets and farriers who are still coming to our aid when needed during this difficult period.”