Downtown Halifax horse stable reopens after 3-month quarantine

Halifax’s iconic downtown horse stable has opened its doors for the first time in nearly three months.

The Junior Bengal Lancers stable has been under quarantine since May, after a highly infectious virus called Strangles was discovered in three horses. 

The virus, which can spread quickly between horses but is not harmful to humans, causes swelling in horses’ necks and breathing problems.

The stable celebrated a clean bill of health Monday with a grand reopening and ribbon-cutting event for staff and students, who lamented the long period of uncertainty and inactivity.

“We weren’t allowed in the barn, and we weren’t allowed to touch any of the horses, or ride, or go to any horse shows,” said 10-year-old Elsa Holt.

“I was scared that I wasn’t going to see the horses for a long time,” said 12-year-old Lucie MacDonald.

Now that all 27 horses have been declared healthy, the stable is rushing to make the most of what is left of its normally busy summer season.

The Junior Bengal Lancers held a grand ‘reopening’ on Monday, marking the first time the stables have been open to the public in 11 weeks. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

Angie Holt, manager and head coach, said the long period of inactivity and isolation has been a struggle.

“One of the hardest things about it was having no children here for that amount of time. I don’t think the horses have ever gone through that before. They like having kids around,” she said. “I noticed even the horses missing the kids.”

Unfortunately, the stable had to keep its doors shuttered, even after the horses had recovered.

“They can remain contagious for many weeks after they’ve finished showing symptoms, that’s why we had to stay closed for as long as we did,” she said.

While it took an emotional toll on both horses and humans, the closure also meant financial losses for the not-for-profit. 

The quarantine meant a full stop on the barn’s busy summer schedule, including lessons, summer camps, and therapeutic programs.

Holt says while it will take time to financially recover from the loss of that revenue, the stable has been helped by the outpouring of support, including private donations and fundraising efforts that brought in almost $30,000 to offset costs such as vet bills.

Angie Holt, the manager and head coach for the Junior Bengal Lancers, says the stable suffered significant financial loss due to the closure during their busiest season. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

Holt says programs will resume immediately, with a long-awaited kids summer camp starting up this week.

“It’s fantastic. The stress has been lifted quite a bit. And I’m just so happy to have people here again. It’s been really lonely without them,” she said.

This is the first time in the stable’s 83-year history it has had to shut down because of health concerns.

Programs will resume immediately at the stables, including summer camps and lessons. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

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St. Peter's Canal bridge closed to boaters, unclear when it will reopen

Some boaters in Nova Scotia are expressing frustration that their long weekend has been longer than expected.

The bridge that goes over the St. Peters canal on Cape Breton’s Route 4 has been stuck in the closed position since late Friday afternoon, and it’s not known when it will be fixed.

The bridge carries a lot of traffic between Port Hawkesbury and Sydney, and swings open to allow tall power boats and sailboats with masts to take the canal from the Atlantic Ocean into the south basin of the Bras d’Or Lake.

Last year, the 80-year-old one-lane swing bridge was replaced with a $16-million, two-lane span.

Working well until now

Gerry Gibson, the St. Peters Lions Marina manager, said the new bridge went through a few early growing pains, but it’s been working well, until now.

“The first month or so there was some minor glitches, and they had people on there all the time to look after it,” he said.

“So minor delays is something that’s going to happen all the time. But there should be no way a delay that goes on for four or five days on the bridge.”

Boaters waiting

There’s no way to know exactly how many boaters have been affected, said Gibson. But some boaters have been docked at the marina while waiting for the bridge to be repaired, and others moor elsewhere in the Bras d’Or.

Gibson said others have called and said they are turning back and won’t be coming into the Bras d’Or Lake because of limited time.

The marina relies on sales of fuel and supplies, and the bridge issue is taking its toll, he said.

“It’s having a major impact on our economy in St. Peters and in the Bras d’Or Lakes, and it’s going to hurt me the rest of the summer, as well,” Gibson said.

No one from Parks Canada communications was available Monday to comment.

Robbie Mann, the Parks Canada lockmaster, said he was not authorized to comment, but he said the bridge has been closed since later Friday afternoon.

Unclear how long repairs will take

A repair crew is expected to arrive on site Tuesday morning, Mann said, but it’s not known how long repairs will take.

He said up to 30 boats have contacted him about the inconvenience.

A couple of boaters stuck in St. Peters said staff at the marina and the canal have been “fantastic.”

Roberto Sani, a sailor with the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron out of Halifax, said it’s costing him $100 a day to wait at the marina.

Not only that, but he and his partner have to get back to Halifax for work.

Sani said some boaters are paying the cost of mooring their boats and getting on a shuttle.

Some traveling through ocean to get out

Others have chosen to sail north to get to the Atlantic Ocean through the Great Bras d’Or or Little Bras d’Or channels, but that adds at least a day to their travel time.

“Some people have just left the boat and went back to Halifax, and some are contemplating going over the top, but the rest of us are just sitting and hoping,” Sani said.

John Van-Schalkwyk, another sailor with the squadron, said the worst part is not having enough information to decide.

‘Frustrating’ situation

He said boaters still haven’t been told the bridge is stuck closed, let alone when it might be fixed.

“If you’re a sailor and you get into trouble, you are required to essentially solve your own problems, unless it’s a mayday, in which case the coast guard comes in,” said Van-Schalkwyk.

“It’s frustrating because we’re not seeing the Parks Canada operation really solving the problem, or perhaps even more importantly, giving us any meaningful information.”

He and others expect to make a decision by noon on Tuesday.

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Swimming and sunscreen: how animals are being protected during the extreme heat

As heat warnings blanket Nova Scotia, concern is growing not just for the safety of people but animals.

At Hatfield Farm in Halifax, most of the animals in the petting zoo are spending their time in shelters or under the shade of the trees.

Owner Brian Hatfield is even giving his horses cold showers.

“They give a lot of signs for heat fatigue,” he says. “It’s just a lot of extra work that you have to do.”

He estimates the horses drink between 18 to 75 litres of water a day, so the workers on the farm are constantly checking to make sure the water tanks are full.

They’re also slathering SPF 40 sunscreen on the animals.

“The horse’s nose will burn” without it, Hatfield says.

‘A real concern’

At Hope for Wildlife, Hope Swinimer says they’ve seen an increase in the number of dehydrated animals arriving at the rehabilitation centre in Seaforth.

“It is certainly a real concern, because again we’re dealing with animals that are already down and out or injured in some way or very young,” said Swinimer. “I think it counteracts our likelihood of success in some cases because they’ve already gone through so much and now they’re facing a ton of heat.”

They sometimes resort to using catheters to hydrate the animals.

The pigs at Hatfield Farm in Halifax have been spending a lot of time in the mud in an attempt to beat the heat. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

Swinimer says what’s especially worrisome is when a brook or water source that is frequented by wildlife dries up in these conditions.

But some animals have coping mechanisms, she says.

“A lot of animals don’t drink water in the way we do. They get a lot from their moisture from food supply or simply from the dew on the morning grass, so in some ways they’re pretty capable of surviving long periods of time of really hot weather.”

The goats at Hatfield Farm are spending most of their time in the shade to avoid the sun. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

Back at the farm, Hatfield says his crew will likely be taking the horses for a swim in a nearby lake to try to beat the heat this week.

“If I could take them in my swimming pool, I would.”

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