Source: University of Guelph

On February 10, 2018 the University of Guelph hosted the second Equine Industry Symposium aimed at bringing industry professionals and enthusiasts together to discuss ways to keep and retain youth engagement under the theme Joining Forces on Youth Engagement.

The opening remarks by Akaash Maharaj, former CEO of Equine Canada, put the Canadian equine industry into perspective using startling graphics clearly depicting a greater impact on the economy than the dairy industry, and a striking decline in industry participants. “Our industry is galloping toward a demographic precipice and unless we do something today, our industry will collapse in a mere 25 years.”  

In his opening remarks, conference facilitator Akaash Maharaj, former CEO of Equine Canada, presented Canadian equine industry graphics clearly depicting a greater impact on the economy than the dairy industry, and a striking decline in industry participants. Photo: Katrina Merkies

The morning was filled with thought-provoking presentations from a variety of professionals addressing the topics of youth recruitment, engagement and succession. Dr. Heather Ramey from Humber College School of Social and Community Services iterated that activity participation does not follow a clear-cut model, but should begin early to keep youth interested later in life. Parents play a key role in youth engagement – parents who participate in activities themselves or who value participation, who are better educated and have a higher income, are more likely engage their children in activities. Barriers must be removed to provide youth with opportunities to get involved in the industry.

Jenny Mayer, Project Assistant at AgScape, presented AgScape’s approach to bringing agriculture to the classroom for grades 7-12. Teachers can request an AgScape lesson on food, agronomy, biotechnology, or environment to connect students with their food and how it is produced. Each lesson highlights career options in agriculture to dispel the belief that agricultural careers involve only tractors and overalls. As the equine industry sits in the agricultural sphere, opportunity exists to use the template Agscape has created to introduce equine topics into the classroom, and in the same way, work to dispel myths surrounding the equine industry and promote the range of possible careers with horses.

Tracey McCague-McElrae, Executive Director for Ontario Equestrian (OE), discussed Ontario Equestrian’s commitment to promoting equestrian sport and creating guidelines for safe, level play among horses and people. Rider-centred programming includes coaching, officials and facility certification. The Long-Term Equestrian Development program provides a clear pathway for riders from child- to adulthood whether competitive or recreational. OE has partnered with a variety of other associations and organizations to provide quality programs for all aspects of equestrianism.

Speakers and VIPs (L-R): Noah Morrissey (son of Dominic Morrissey), Jenny Mayer, Heather Ramey, Gayle Ecker, Rene van Acker (dean of OAC), Malcolm Campbell (AVP research for UG), Bronwynne Wilton (a moderator), Akaash Maharaj, Tracey McCague-McElrae, Dominic Morrissey (PC candidate), Kim Leffley. Photo: Matthew Riediger

Kim Leffley, former National Chair of the Canadian Pony Club, challenged the youth of the iGeneration to move away from the implied glories of winning ribbons and instead focus on learning about horses themselves. To combat the pervasive idea that riding is an elitist sport, partnerships must emerge from equine organizations to create a sustainable plan for the equine industry. Sharing resources lowers costs and provides economical knowledge to non-horse-knowledgeable parents.
 
David Reynolds, President of INAC Services Ltd., presented a plethora of opportunities for funding of agricultural positions. With a little ingenuity, proposals to funding agencies can secure grants for hiring employees, paying for training, reducing energy costs and environmental impact, research and development, export development and to support youth entrepreneurs. Youth looking for employment can offer potential employers a funding scheme through employment programs where the employer only pays a small proportion of the employee’s wages.
 
Gayle Ecker, Director of Equine Guelph, discussed how Equine Guelph was created by the industry for the industry to disseminate information on all things equine to support equine education and research. The programs administered by Equine Guelph show the value of developing partnerships to provide opportunities for youth. The newest initiative, The Horse Portal, is a partnership platform for an equine community available to everyone in the equine industry. Each partner has their own customized webpage on the portal. The strength of the partnerships strengthens the industry by bringing together equine enthusiasts from all disciplines.
 
The afternoon provided the opportunity for attendees to contribute to ideas and actions through round-table discussions centred on the three themes of recruitment, engagement, and succession. The Recruitment group identified misconceptions of the equine industry that create barriers to entry and the need to develop unity among the numerous discipline/breed/method groups. Having a unified education presence at equine events across Canada would inform those unfamiliar with the industry, and annual conferences could focus on the development of the education message through partnerships and networking.
 
Conversation in the Engagement group addressed ways to sustain the interest and develop the skills of individuals who have already become aware of horses and the industry. Where not every equine facility can provide everything to everyone, a network of facilities would enable the sharing of ideas and resources that focus on specific skills, attributes, specialties, and career opportunities. An Equine Professional Association would bring together experts to connect the industry and build a community of practice. The Horse Portal would be a logical clearinghouse for this community of equine knowledge and opportunity. The Succession group emphasized the need for unity to put our industry in a better position to develop standardizations, identify professional pathway options and funding opportunities, and strengthen the body of knowledge through integrated local, provincial, and national strategies.

The goodwill and enthusiasm in the room was palpable as participants embraced the symposium’s theme of Joining Forces. Maharaj summed up the day with the phrase “I am somebody. Each and every one of us is important to the equine community, and each of us can take a small step or a large step or a series of steps to influence the direction our industry will take. We will succeed together, or fail apart.”

The event was organized and hosted by second-year students in the Bachelor of Bio-Resource Management degree program majoring in Equine Management. 

Main photo: Katrina Merkies

Category: 
International
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