Deprived of its usual revenue stream due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hearts Therapeutic Equestrian Center is now more dependent than ever on the support of individuals within the Santa Barbara community, to which it has increased its outreach for financial assistance to weather the storm of the coronavirus.
Though the center hasn’t used its 18 horses to offer programs like therapeutic horseback riding or equine facilitated psychotherapy since it decided to cease operations on March 17, caring for its animals doesn’t stop with frozen business. Keeping essential workers on hand to give the horses exercise and provide veterinary and farrier service, the equestrian center is doing what it must to make sure it’s ready to reactivate the moment crowd restrictions are lifted, according to Development Manager Morgan Kastenek.
“We are doing everything we can to be prepared for when we reopen,” she said.
Staying prepared for reopening and taking care of the horses is an expensive proposition, however, and the coronavirus situation has left the equestrian center operating without revenue sources that it is used to at this time of year. Though Hearts is almost entirely reliant on donations from individuals and foundation grants under ordinary circumstances anyway, it makes somewhat less than a third of its annual revenue through its programs. Additionally, Hearts’ annual Barn Dance fundraiser originally scheduled for May 9 was expected to bring in around $50,000 before it got cancelled due to the pandemic.
According to Ms. Kastenek, maintaining the 18 horses at Hearts costs $10,000 a month, so the money raised during the average annual Barn Dance could pay for nearly half a year’s worth of horse care.
Hearts has increased the number of foundation grants it has applied for, but if it receives them it will not be able to use the money while its doors are closed, considering the foundations don’t award the grants until the end of the year. Ordinarily, Hearts reaches out to its individual donors in the Santa Barbara community at the end of the year, making its appeal for why they should continue supporting the equestrian center. Unsurprisingly, the current situation means that Hearts needs to make that appeal sooner than usual.
“We’re essentially working backwards and reaching out to everyone we can now,” Ms. Kastenek said.
Thus far, Ms. Kastenek is thrilled with the “outpouring” of community support and individual donations Hearts has received. One of the most significant donors has been local women’s accessories designer Caron Miller. As the News-Press reported, Ms. Miller has recently opened up a division of her collection dedicated to protective facemasks. She dedicated 100% of the $3,000 revenue from her first batch of masks to Hearts. As she continues to sell facemasks, Ms. Miller is donating 20% of all continued sales to Hearts.
Though Ms. Kastenek is pleased with the donations the equestrian center has received since it closed, she is concerned about maintaining that level of initial support as businesses around town remain shuttered for longer periods of time and the economic effects of the pandemic linger.
“I think what’s going to be difficult is keeping that momentum going,” she said.
To do what it can in maintaining a strong level of financial support from the Santa Barbara community, Hearts has bolstered its social media presence by going up from one or two posts per week to daily posting. Still, Ms. Kastenak acknowledged that the economic impacts of the coronavirus mean that now isn’t the best time to ask for money. While the health crisis is cutting significantly into Hearts’ reserves even with strong community help, Ms. Kastenak stressed that its resolve to make it through the coronavirus remains strong.
“We are fully functioning, pushing ahead, and looking forward to having our participants back,” she said.