Current and former amateur and professional equestrians were devastated on Monday after an early-morning fire ripped through two buildings at Sunnybrook Stables, leaving 16 horses dead.
No cause for the fire, which began around 3 a.m., has yet been established and an investigation is continuing. The stables, located in Toronto’s eastern Sunnybrook Park at Eglinton and Leslie, have been providing lessons for beginner to advanced riders for almost four decades, as well as hosting qualifying events for competitions.
The facility sits on land that was originally home to a farm estate as well as to one of Canada’s first indoor riding arenas. One of two barns was destroyed in the fire, Toronto Fire Services said.
“One of the barns burned completely. It’s a lot of debris,” said Stephan Powell, district chief for Toronto Fire Services.
About 50 to 60 fire responders worked to extinguish the two-alarm fire overnight and saved 13 horses, who were later moved to the Horse Palace building and barns at Exhibition Place by Toronto Police, Mr. Powell said.
Sunnybrook Stables is a training ground for many young riders whose love of the sport sometimes turns into their profession.
“Sunnybrook gave me a safe place as a kid going through elementary school and high school, and it has been able to do that for so many people for so many years,” said Megan Shea, a Canadian under-25 Grand Prix rider. Ms. Shea, 24, began riding as an 11-year-old at Sunnybrook and now competes and teaches throughout North America. “Not only have we lost the horses and the facility, but it’s a bit of heart the city has lost,” she said.
Many of the horses on which beginning riders learn were housed in the barn that burned down, said one former rider who is familiar with the buildings. Those animals had been schooled to be gentle, said Kalon Haggith, an equestrian who rode horses for 10 years at Sunnybrook before moving to competitive show jumping more recently.
“They have so many people on them, all day every day, and that makes them exceptional creatures,” Ms. Haggith said.
Other horses at the Stables were more demanding of riders, teaching them how to understand the cues a horse gives, she added. Ms. Haggith said she was told that Sugar, one of the horses that helped her become competitive, perished in the fire.
“You learn from the horses who challenge you, like Sugar,” she said. “I say that those horses make you more of a rider than a passenger.”
As news of the fire spread among current and former riders and learners over social media on Monday morning, many were hoping the horses they had become attached to survived.
“My daughter has bonded with the horse she has, she’s very worried about him,” said Rose Giles, whose 10-year-old daughter began lessons at Sunnybrook not long ago. “It was devastating for her to hear about this happening.”
Police have appealed to anyone with information about the fire to contact them. “Thank you to Toronto Fire and Toronto Police for working to save as many horses as possible,” Mayor John Tory said in a tweet. “It’s a tragedy when we lose animals like this but I know everyone tried their best to save as many as they could.”