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Back in the saddle again

With the loosening of COVID restrictions, volunteers have returned to help out at Conestogo River Horseback Adventures. [Damon Maclean]

Day camps are among activities now permitted as the economy opens, though subject to safety measures such as physical distancing. That the recommended six-foot gap is about the length of a horse is perhaps a happy coincidence for Conestogo River Horseback Adventures (CRHA), which is now looking forward to galloping into the season with their camp programs.

The ability to reopen, if not fully, was a welcome relief for owner Tatyanna van Lenthe, who was forced to shut down completely, the company not being deemed an essential service.

“I had to lay off every single one of my employees,” she said, noting there were still 47 horses to feed and care for – the bill for the hay alone topped $30,000 since the start of the year.

Despite a number of programs offered by federal and provincial governments, the equine industry found itself in something of a no-man’s land. That was certainly the case for van Lenthe.

“As a business, we cannot get CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit). We cannot get a wage subsidy because of the family business. We cannot get rent, commercial rent deferral because the businesses are too closely related. So, all of the government policies in place in order to make sure that there’s no scamming, which totally makes sense, allow a loophole for the equine industry to be completely starving.”

The enforced lockdown caused a number of hardships, including uncertainty over the summer season, which was postponed. Previously booked slots were deferred to another time, an arrangement most of Horseback Adventures’ clients took in stride under the circumstances.

Given the spring layoffs, van Lenthe made an arrangement with her two daughters to help out around the site instead of doing school work, a deal the girls were eager to take on. Van Lethe was also fortunate to have the volunteer help of many horse lovers in the community, people stepping up having allowed CRHA to reopen as a facility in phase 1 and now being allowed to operate the day camps as of phase 2.

Of the staff van Lenthe had hired and was hoping to use the Canadian summer job program to subsidize wages, only 40 per cent remain available in part due to concerns about COVID-19.

Even with a low-key push for registrations for the summer camp programs, enrollment rates have been substantially high, she said.

“Parents are really, really looking for an outdoor activity for their children. They want them to have the fresh air. They want them to have the nature experience, and that with us having 40 acres plus access to public trails that we have space to do a variety of things.”

Of the changes made to meet reopening standards, the biggest one is group size. Ratios are typically one to five for riding and one to ten for games. The one to five will remain; however, counsellors will stay with their group instead of doing rotations to support complete traceability. Other precautions include prescreening, sanitization and physical distancing, all of which have been outlined by the camp and sent to those who have registered.

The camp offers four different options with lessons ranging from farm camp to outdoor adventure camp, which climaxes at the end of the week with a reenactment of the classic television show Mantracker, which sees players play a large scale hide-and-seek game.

Click here for more information about programs and lessons.

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