BY DANI SCHNEIDER
The Equestrian world has come to a halt in the midst of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. While the safety and health of everyone and their horses is imperative, what does it mean for equine industry workers?
As of March 16, 2020, all USEF-owned events, selection trials, training camps, and activities are suspended for the next 30 days. In addition to USEF, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and many more health organizations have implemented safety measures to help treat those affected and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Schools have turned to online sessions, sports have been cancelled or postponed, and equestrians haven’t escaped the effects, either. With social distancing orders, cancelled shows, and travel bans there is a lot of uncertainty for trainers, clients, and barn staff.
As more and more non-equine workplaces shut down to prevent the spread of the virus, many employees have found themselves with less pay or even, in dire cases, with a pink slip in hand. As the weeks continue and paychecks become even smaller, those who board horses or keep horses in training will find themselves with less disposable income to go toward their hobby. This will have a ripple effect throughout the industry long past this current month. Less pay to spend on horses means less horses bought, put in training and even shown when show season does resume.
For many, competition season is where they make their income to support themselves and their family members for the year. With shows being on hiatus, trainers are unable to earn an income, pay their employees, or continue their sales and training businesses. Additionally, riders, grooms, haulers, braiders, vendors, show staff and other equestrian professional jobs are at risk.
Nonetheless, horses still require daily care and training, which means continuing to travel to the barn to feed and ride. Public safety regulations seem to change every day, though, and could ultimately require barns to take drastic measures like shutting down access to clients to limit the risk of spreading COVID-19.
It may seem cruel to prevent owners from visiting their horses during this stressful time. The barn is a hub for people to escape the real world and focus on their love for horses and perfecting their rides. Still, if clients are allowed to have access to the barn, that puts grooms and other staff who can’t afford to stay away from their jobs at risk of contracting COVID-19.
Most people picture barn employees as strong and healthy individuals, but many grooms and staff live at home with older and/or sick relatives. If an asymptomatic client passes COVID-19 along to a groom, they might unknowingly share it with one of these family members, putting them in an even more precarious position since COVID-19 is known to be deadly to people in those categories.
Like grooms, closing down the business or significantly revising operations is not an affordable option for most equestrian professionals. Instead, many are trying to adapt in order to provide the best care for their horses and maintain the safety of the community on a local and global scale. Those who are unwilling to seek out solutions while they still can, though, may find themselves floundering as the pandemic continues.
The equestrian industry is not bound by physical borders, but rather a community that gathers together through a passion for the sport. It has a life cycle of its own and an order of checks and balances that go into owning a business. With horse shows, selling/buying and other essential sources of income at a pause, trainers and other professional equestrians will need a little understanding from their clients and an ability to think outside the box in order to keep their doors open through the days to come.