During the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, April LeBlanc had no trouble keeping busy at Shadowy Hills, her parent’s property in Mono, Ontario, where she runs her schooling and thoroughbred training farm. With over 25 lesson horses and numerous yearlings and other thoroughbreds in training at home instead of at the track, plus an abundance of minis and dogs, there was no time to slow down. However, she was also wishing she could get back to training at Woodbine Racetrack as well.
Finally, in late spring, the track allowed the trainers to come back to work. As the assistant trainer for Mike McDonald Racing, April was happy to be back training and exercising all of his horses. Unfortunately, Mike was stuck in Florida due to Covid-19 restrictions. Being back meant she now had even longer days both at the track and at her farm, but it was wonderful to see her track family again and she was excited for the upcoming season.
July 9th, 2020 was another beautiful summer day at Woodbine. Although there were no spectators, the horses were in top form and the races were going off without a hitch while being streamed online. April and her team were preparing for the 7th race. She left the barn in the backstretch with the next mare to race and headed toward the paddock. What happened next, no one may truly know – except perhaps the mare. In fact, April doesn’t remember anything that happened that day.
She was found unconscious on the road to the paddock by Woodbine’s racehorse identifier and lifelong friend, Tammy Frost. Tammy stayed with her until the emergency crew arrived and April was rushed to Sunnybrook Hospital. She suffered severe injuries to her head including a broken nose, cheek bones and chin; severe lacerations under her chin and nose; a dislocated jaw; and a severe brain injury, which she still has. The doctors put her into an induced coma and allowed her mother to visit even through it was during the pandemic, as they were not sure if April would survive.
After three days, April was brought out of her coma and within a week had managed to convince her doctors to let her go home to her home in Bolton, Ontario, where she lives with her five dogs.
It will be a long road for her recovery and there is no possible way she can take care of the horses on the farm for quite some time. However, she has nothing to worry about when it comes to the running of the farm or the care of her horses and dogs. Thankfully, she has some true angels in her life who stepped up to help right away.
On the night of the accident, April’s neighbours Sherry and Evette knew her dogs were at home. They used the spare key they had for her house and gave the dogs their dinner and some outside time. The following morning, her friend Nicole Warren picked up the dogs and took them to the farm so April’s mom could take care of them.
The true, ongoing heroes of this story are her barn family, especially Ryan Lloyd, a student of April’s for over 20 years and the best kind of friend she could ever ask for. Employed in the restaurant industry and out of work due to the pandemic, Ryan did not hesitate to lend a hand. In fact, he stepped right into April’s boots, grabbed the reins and has been keeping the farm operating smoothly since the day of the accident. With the help of fellow long-time student Alyssa Losonski and once it was safe for the students to return to the barn, he even made sure the little ones continued to get time with their horses and learn the basics of riding and horsemanship.
However, it wasn’t just these two who wanted to help; it was all of her good friends as well including Nicole, Cory Clark, Rossalyn Kennedy, and young Pietro Moran, the son of David Moran, one of the jockeys she works with. Not only did they help on the farm, but Cory also set up a GoFundMe account to raise money to keep the farm running and the animals fed. “I am so lucky to have the friends that I do,” said a grateful April. “I always knew they were great people; however now I know they are heroes, too.” Even her other students and their parents helped out where they could. The whole barn gang proved how close this equestrian family is and how when one is down, the rest jump in to help.
Her track family also didn’t hesitate to help. Her team immediately took over the care of her training thoroughbreds and have kept them healthy and racing ever since. Woodbine Racetrack recognized that one of their long-time trainers would need help during her recovery and have graciously donated to her GoFundMe campaign and encouraged others to donate through posts on social media.
April was not allowed to go to her farm for regular visits until September. She still cannot work, and is incredibly thankful for every person who has helped, and continues to help, keep her horses happy and healthy. She has also had the chance to see her horses at the track a few times, and while she misses them terribly, she knows that they are in good hands.
April’s recovery will continue for many more months with regular trips to Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto for tests, CT scans (which have caused her to have seizures), and doctor visits. “I have a long road ahead of me,” remarks April. “I still have memory issues and have to rest after a short time of doing anything, but I am feeling better every day.” Her mom or Ryan are always willing to help get her to her appointments as it will be a long time before she can drive again.
“Thank you so much to everyone who has helped me in any way in the last several months,” April comments, holding back tears. “I love you all!”
Janice Byer is a professional equestrian photographer and freelance journalist in Southern Ontario. Visit her website here.