Friday, November 6, 2009

A Message from Michael Gallagher, President of Equine Canada

I am sure most of you have received several messages regarding the changes at Equine Canada and are probably sick of it. Unfortunately, much of the competing information that has been distributed has been inaccurate, distorted, exaggerated and very emotional. Therefore I am going to try and present a short, clear and simple explanation of the planned changes in this message.

When Equine Canada was created about 9 years ago, the intention was that it move from being solely an FEI Sport Organization to an organization that represents all Equestrian enthusiasts across the country. By including provincial equestrian association members, recreational riders, western disciplines, breeds and industry members and part of the racing industry, Equine Canada’s membership went from 9,000 Sport members to somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 people. The problem has been that all of these new members do not pay any type of membership fee to Equine Canada, we do not know their names or how to contact them directly and many of them do not even realize they are a member. Fees from our Sport members provide well over 80% of the total revenue for the organization. They correctly expect that their Sport fees be spent on sport programs. The other 70,000 or so members enjoy “free” membership in Equine Canada. They currently receive some benefits of membership but so far, we have not been able to provide them with the level of services described in our strategic plan.

In November of 2008, the Board of directors of Equine Canada decided that we should charge a small membership fee of $10 to ALL members. This way we could have funds that could be used for non sport related programs and start providing real value to ALL of our members. (That fee has since been reduced to $5 for 2010). There are some that say we do not do anything for our non sport members. While I do not agree, I do agree that we are not doing enough. So some say why should we pay anything because EC does not do anything for us. It is a bit of a chicken and egg situation. There have been no funds to create the projects or services, so if everyone would chip in a small fee, then the programs could be offered.

Here are some examples of ideas we have for new programs and it is growing daily as we receive input from our members;

Develop National standards for equestrian trails.
Develop programs that support the safe use of horses for pleasure and leisure pursuits and create educational materials for recreational riders. Potential development of online web cast educational seminars available across the country, either live or as recordings.
Develop equine health and welfare standards throughout Canada which include minimum standards of care, minimum standards for transportation, and work with legislators on standards for what is considered acceptable humane treatment.
Conduct herd health and horse improvement research in cooperation with government agencies.              
To develop National standards for public riding centers and rental facilities and promotional help for lesson programs, rental centers, backcountry outfitters, etc.
Develop a National Stables Accreditation Program and National Online Directories for Stables of all types which will follow the MLS model from Real Estate and allow both Canadian and overseas access to one central source of information
Create online information and communication strategy to advise members of all current and urgent information with regards to Government legislation, border crossing issues, disease control and information           
To work with federal government agencies on issues such as fair and equitable taxation status including having horses “zero rated” for GST, address the need for horses to be considered livestock and accorded the same rights and privileges as other livestock as well as access to public lands for recreational riding.
To develop Outreach school programs          
To represent Canadian Horse Owners to the Federal Government with regards to a National Equine Identification and Information System that will be approved by government and used for all horse movement in Canada. Equine Canada will insure the rights of horse owners are protected.
Development of a relationship with Industry Canada enabling access to funds for Domestic Market development such as apprenticeship programs for grooms, and training an equine labor force.
Internal Canadian Trade missions led by Equine Canada or others, for facility tours, viewing horses, and other Canadian products and services.
Development of a relationship with Tourism Canada promoting guiding, Backcountry outfitters, Summer Camps and other products and services overseas.
Create a full time staff person responsible for the Breeds and Industry activities as well as Recreation

These are just a few examples of some of the initiatives that could benefit every horse owner in Canada. We are still a long way from achieving all of these goals and there are many more to add to this list – they require time, staff and more resources. In the new year, we will be contacting members in town hall meetings and on line surveys to get your opinion on what the priorities should be. Contrary to what you may have heard, all new funds collected will be dedicated to these new programs for the benefit of all members.

As well, your $5 Equine Canada membership includes access to our Members First Program which offers substantial discounts on several products as well as our group discount program for Hotels and car rentals. You can save hundreds of dollars in discounts by having a $5.00 membership!!

Supporting a strong National Association for Equestrian enthusiasts across the country should be worth $5.00 by itself. As well, I believe most horse owners would be happy to support an Association that is working hard on equine health and welfare across the country for the sum of $5.00.

That’s it in a nutshell – we would like a small fee from each member in the country to fund these projects. We want to know who our members are so we can send you monthly e-newsletters keeping you up to date on how we are doing with all of these projects. We also want to be able to contact you in the event of a major equine disease.

As you know, some Provinces have decided that they want to save their members from a $5.00 fee and have created a huge battle over such a small amount of money. Despite Equine Canada agreeing to contractual assurances on the use of the funds and the use of membership information, they still resist this program. They are spreading false information and in some cases, spending most of their time trying to figure out how they can stop Equine Canada legally from proceeding with the new membership program – instead of providing discussion on what it is about the program that they do not agree with. It has been called “arbitrary” and other similar names, but none this has been done without extensive consultation with the Provinces over nine years of negotiations.

In February 2009, ALL ten provincial representatives voted unanimously to support Equine Canada by charging their members a fee built into their provincial equestrian association membership and to provide membership contact information (with limits on the use). The motion passed by the Provincial representatives was “in principle”. To date, none of the dissenters have explained what principle has changed. Some say we do not have a plan – almost everything I have given as examples above are already contained in our 2006 Strategic Plan.

Contrary to what some provinces are telling you, belonging to a provincial equestrian association that does not support the new fee will not make you a member in good standing of Equine Canada.  Though they correctly quote article 3.4 of our constitution that says that provincial members can be members of Equine Canada, they often fail to mention that articles 3.7 and 3.9 state that – like in their own organizations – an eligible person must still pay his or her annual dues to be a member in good standing.

I have discussed this issue personally with hundreds of members. When they hear the whole storey, it seems that 95% agree that having a strong National Association is important and that $5.00 to $10.00 is an extremely inexpensive membership to support such a worthwhile cause, especially when it is guaranteed to be used in programs that will benefit every horse enthusiast in Canada. I hope you agree.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Gallagher

President of Equine Canada