Is suburban sprawl encroaching on your barn? If so, your neighbors may have idealized notions about the charms of rural life, expecting a pastoral view of horses grazing on manicured lawns. They may object to living in close proximity to real, live horses - along with flies, mud, manure piles, tractors and electric-tape fencing. While you can't (and shouldn't) try to recreate your neighbors' idealized vision, you can take steps to minimize complaints and improve your relationship with them. Here's how.
Stay in touch. A little diplomacy goes a long way. Listen to what your neighbors have to say, and let them know that you're doing whatever is reasonable to address their concerns. Failure to communicate, and ignoring attempts to work things out can make small matters escalate into real problems.
Keep up your fencing. Loose horses raise safety concerns. And many suburban dwellers don't understand horses and can be fearful of them. Supplement electrified tape or vinyl fences with a true physical barrier (such as wire-mesh fencing) around your property line.
Keep up your grounds. Most suburban homeowners respond to appearances. Keep lawns and fields mowed, and keep outbuildings painted. Pick up tools, materials, unfinished projects, and junk, and out away equipment.
Manage manure. Position your barn's manure pile away from sight lines of adjacent houses. (If the pile is out of sight, it may be out of mind.) You can conceal it behind trees, fences, or neatly stacked bales of last year's hay. Also, manage the pile to control flies.
Control and license your dogs. Country dogs are often allowed to wander, which is an affront to those brought up in urban and suburban culture. Therefore, when the new development goes in next door, a common objection will be unrestrained, unlicensed dogs.
Minimize loud activities. Sound carries, so keep loud activities to a minimum, or at least to reasonable hours. Trainers and instructors who use megaphones or speakers may elicit complaints from closer neighbors who most likely moved to the "country" for peace and quiet.
Turn off the lights. Turn off your bright arena and barn lights at a reasonable hour. For safety purposes, use low-wattage barn and grounds lighting.
Post barn rules. Remind others who ride on your property - such as guests, boarders and training clients - to respect your neighbors' property. Confront those who refuse to comply.
Get proper permits. Get approval for physical improvement, and let your neighbors know what you're doing. Moreover, remind contractors to confine their operations to your property and maintain reasonable working hours.
Get involved. Take part in zoning hearing that affect your horse activities. Along with being a good neighbor, you need to defend challenges to your rights as a landowner.
David J. Wyatt is a lifetime horse owner, rider and trainer. He and his wife, dressage trainer/competitor Connie LaSalle Wyatt, own and operate a horse farm in Hinckley, Ohio. A professional freelance writer, David has published articles in literary, professional and sporting journals for more than 20 years.
This article first appeared in the January, 2001 issue of Horse & Rider magazine.