Save a horse… read a book?

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While the pandemic has been hard on everyone, it has been especially difficult for two groups of people: parents with young children, and business owners.

Many parents have had to figure out creative ways to keep their kids entertained while also balancing their other full-time job—their career.

While many business owners have had to deal with the uncertainty that comes from being forced to close up shop for an extended period of time—for some it’s been more than three months.

One Oakville mother figured out a way to help further her daughter’s education, while also raising money to support a cause that is dear to both herself and her daughter Rachael McMillan.

In order to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, many schooling barns, where young riders can learn how to ride horses, were forced to cease group lessons and cancel camps, which has had a negative impact on their ability to take care of their horses.

As a result, many of these barns were struggling to make ends meet and take care of their horses.

Suzanne McMillan has been spending much of her time during the pandemic homeschooling her daughter Rachael, which helped her come up with the idea for the fundraiser.

I thought this could be a way for us to do something together that would benefit Rachael and the barns at the same time,” she said.

She noticed her daughter, a fellow horse-lover who takes after her mother, naturally gravitated to horse-related books.

Rachael has been learning to read, and I wanted to try and figure out a way we could do something to help while also encouraging Rachael’s learning at the same time,” McMillan says.

While McMillan wasn’t sure what she could do to help, she knew she had to do something. “I didn’t really know how else I even could help out—I couldn’t make masks because I don’t know how to sew; I don’t even have a sewing machine,” she says.

This idea eventually became Rachael Reads—an online fundraiser that involves five-year-old Rachael reading a book every day to raise money for horses of affected barns around southern Ontario.

Rachael really loves some of the horse-related books we had around the house, and that got me thinking that if we shared the progress she’s been making learning to read online, it might inspire people to help out,” McMillan says.

So far, Rachael Reads has been able to assist six barns in southern Ontario, including Cornerstone Equestrian Centre in Moffat, Ontario.

According to Marc Reid, one of the owners of Cornerstone, the reason these barns have been struggling is due to their unique classification.

Equestrian farms fall into a niche area of agriculture; the typical equestrian facility does not qualify for any of the government aid,” Reid says. “For example, many farms are owned, so we do not qualify for rent subsidies on our very high mortgage payments.  Banks are near impossible to get ahold of, and even if you do, they may allow deferring of payments, which really is only a band-aid on a potentially gushing wound.”

According to Reid, it costs between $400 and $700 per month to take care of a horse. This would cost smaller barns with 10 horses between $4,000 and $7,000 per month.

Being forced to shut down from near the beginning, eliminating our highest margin source of income (lessons/training/camps), has made things very, very, hard,” says Reid. “We do have boarders; however, the margin on boarding is extremely thin. Although boarded horses are not a drain on money, like the lesson horses became, they do not provide enough income alone to pay for electrical—even with the reduced price—maintenance, taxes, mortgage interest/rent, equipment, etc.”

Another barn that has been hit hard by the pandemic is Meadowlarke Stables in Mississauga, which is owned by Anthea Larke.

We’ve seen a revenue loss of 57 per cent so far this year. Half of March, April and May, the months that we were closed, are some of our busiest months for lessons,” says Larke. “Summer camp is another source of income that is vastly reduced because of the social distancing constraints of COVID-19, and the nervousness of some parents to send their children to day camp.”

Additionally, while many barns have been permitted to resume certain services by the Province, the restrictions in place have limited their earning potential.

We are having to run reduced programs with higher costs, due to the social distancing and disinfecting requirements,” says Larke.

With current regulations and liability, we are only able to offer private lessons, which are significantly more expensive than groups. In order to ensure we can keep and care for our animals, we can’t really discount those services,” adds Reid “Ideally, increasing prices is needed; however, that could further erode our client base, as most people’s disposable income has significantly decreased.”

So far, Rachael Reads has raised $2,295 for schooling barns. As well, as part of a new program by RBC entitled Random Acts of Canadian, RBC has pledged to match the amount Rachael had raised in late June—$2,285, meaning the fundraiser has surpassed $4,500 in funding.

Cornerstone has already benefited from some of this funding, which they have used to help pay for some of their horses’ necessities.

Thankfully because of Rachael Reads and a number of our client’s direct donations, we were able to cover the basic feed costs of our school horses, aka ‘schoolies,’ which made affording labour for their care, veterinary costs—vaccinations, medications, teeth, etc—and blacksmith—foot care—easier to maintain on our own,” says Reid.

In addition to helping barns that have been struggling, Rachael Reads has also become Rachael’s favourite activity of her day.

It’s become one of her favourite things to do during the day—every day she asks: ‘when can we do Rachael Reads today?’ and ‘What book are we reading?’ She gets really excited about it,” says McMillan.

Further, in addition to helping raise money for horses, Rachael Reads has helped improve Rachael’s reading ability.

She’s become much better at reading complex words and longer stories. She started out being able to read two- and three-letter words, and now she’s able to read much longer, almost novel-length stories with much more complicated words,” says McMillan.

Rachael loves to read books that are horse-related, two of her favourite series are Pony Scouts and My Little Pony.

My favourite book is Equestria because it helps you learn all about the places in Equestria,” Rachael says.

Moreover, despite the fact she’s become ‘internet famous,’ Rachael hasn’t let her new-found fame go to her head. “Sometimes I feel nervous reading the stories, but it makes me feel happy to be helping the horses,” she says.

Those interested in supporting barns in need can do so by visiting Rachael Reads’ GoFundMe page, while those interested in other stories of inspirational Canadians can do so here.

To all those who have donated to Rachael Reads—and those considering donating—Rachael has a special message.

Message from Rachael from insauga on Vimeo.

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