Edmonton equine centre questions strict COVID-19 restrictions despite massive arena – Edmonton

An Edmonton horse riding group says it believes Alberta’s enhanced rules around COVID-19 are not specific enough for sports like theirs.

Alberta Health told Global News the Whitemud Equine Learning Centre Association must comply with the guidelines outlined for sport and group physical activities, which under the new enhanced restrictions, mean indoor training is now limited to one-to-one.

However, the group is questioning why that’s necessary when even before the pandemic the lessons were already spaced out and held in a massive arena.

“While we are a sport, we are extremely individualized,” said Heather Hilton, the vice-chair of the Whitemud Equine Learning Centre Association.

“[Before COVID we had] six riders per instructor in a 20 metre by 60 metre arena.

“We’re not a typical sport — we’re not chasing after a ball or a puck… (the) rules are not made for us in the typical sense.”

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The sporting rules mean that the classes are now being done essentially privately.

However, the group is questioning why the rules are so strict for them but restaurants and other businesses are still open to the public.

“We are not close together — you get close to people in the grocery store, you get closer to people in a casino, which is still allowed to run,” said instructor Rebecca Walton.

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The new restrictions were announced last Tuesday when the province declared a second state of emergency due to the pandemic. There have been record-high numbers of cases in the province over the past several weeks, including the highest single-day number of cases on Saturday when 1,731 were identified. 

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Despite the rising cases, the association decided to apply for an exemption in hopes it could increase the number of students permitted — but the guidelines for exemptions are also unrealistic for the group, Hilton said.

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“In order to qualify for an exemption, you need to run as the NHL did with [its] bubble, in that people need to quarantine for 14 days,” she said.

“You have to have appropriate testing for people.”

Running a private testing program is not realistic for the association, which is still trying to recoup from COVID-19 impacts earlier this year.

“In March, we shut down due to the restrictions set out then; in May, we were able to reopen under extreme protocols,” Hilton said.

However, in May the restrictions were more relaxed — cohorts were allowed so capacity was higher. Now the group says its financial future is unclear.

“We can’t charge for classes we can’t hold,” Hilton said. “So we’ll either be offering refunds for those people who have started one program and the learn-to-rides — we’ll be offering them a prorated amount based on the number of classes we may or may not be able to run.”

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While the association hasn’t received a response for its exemption application, Hilton says she believes it will be rejected and so the private lessons will continue.

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“We don’t want to cause issues for ourselves and anybody else in the community,” she said.

Alberta Health said that the centre could hold outdoor classes with a limit of 10, including any staff.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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