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How many horses should be housed on acre of land?

The council and the city staff are trying to find the best formula for determining the number of horses per acre.

Published July 25, 2004

PINELLAS PARK - Philosophers worry about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. In Pinellas Park, the question is a bit different: How many horses should live on an acre of land?

That's the question bedeviling Pinellas Park staff members these days after the council told them to come up with the ideal number of horses per acre.

Council members decided a set number was necessary after a property owner asked to board 40 horses on 3.45 acres. The council turned her down 3-2 but said she could have 22 horses.

Staff members studied the issue and consulted with the city's Equestrian Commission and came up with an answer - eight horses per acre.

But some council members thought that was too many when they discussed it last Tuesday.

Then the discussion bogged down in a question of what to do with portions of an acre: What happens if the property is 1.5 acres, for example?

Should the owner be limited to eight horses?

Should it be rounded up to 2 acres, meaning the owner could have 16 horses?

Or, should the horses be apportioned, meaning the owner could have 12 horses; eight for the acre and four for the half acre?

That last made council members happier, but they took the item off the agenda minutes before Thursday's meeting. Staff members discovered that most of the city's existing boarding stables could have more horses under the proposed change.

First Choice Equestrian on 62nd Avenue N would be able to have 88 horses on its 11 acres. The stable currently houses 30.

Mathias, also on 62nd Avenue N, would be able to double its horse population on its 4.51 acres from 20 to 40.

Cherokee Ranch on 90th Avenue N could have 72 horses on its 9-plus acres. It currently has 60.

Still others, if not grandfathered, would have to reduce their horse population.

Dar Es Salaam Farms on 63rd Terrace N could have no horses. It's 0.47 acres currently has four equines.

Majestic Oaks on 62nd Avenue N would have to cut its horse population from 21 to eight. It has 0.67 acres.

Whispering Trail Farms on 94th Avenue N, with 0.22 acres, would not be able to have any horses. It currently has seven.

Assistant City Manager Tom Shevlin said city staff will revisit the issue. It is not clear when a new proposal will come to the council.

"Ideally we'd like to give our horses a lot of acres, but practicality doesn't allow us to do that," said Cherry Hill, author of 25 books on horse training and horse care, including 1990's Horsekeeping on a Small Acreage. She also has a Web site with horse care tips,

Hill is updating the book to deal with the difficulties faced by horse owners in places like Pinellas Park. The new edition will be published after the first of the year.

While Hill's first reaction to eight horses per acre was "Wow, that's way too many," she said the necessary acreage varies widely depending on the land, the horse and the care.

Hill was unable to suggest the proper number for Pinellas Park because she has never visited the area. But, ideally, a horse that's expected to live off the land with no extra feed or hay should have at least 2 acres, she said. That's if the grass is lush.

In Colorado, where Hill lives, the equation would be more like one horse for every 20 or 30 acres because vegetation is so sparse.

Horses that are stabled, exercised, fed hay and grain, can live in a much smaller area. But an owner needs to plan in advance and then be diligent about care; upkeep of horses, stables and land; and be thoughtful of the neighbors.

With ideal management, eight horses per acre could work, Hill said.

"There are just so many things to consider," Hill said. "If you had eight horses per acre, what are you going to do with the manure and the bedding?"

The most environmentally friendly solution, she said, is sticking it in a compost pile. But nonhorsey neighbors understandably complain.

"Who wants a compost pile in a residential neighborhood?" Hill asked. "These are big issues."

They are issues that are becoming more critical every day as urban sprawl encroaches on open land and as cities create horse parks in an effort to accommodate horse lovers.

Gail Larson, owner of Southern Star Stables on 94th Avenue N, is well aware of the problems of horsekeeping on a small property. She has 22 horses boarded on her 2.5 acres. Larson agreed with Hill that diligence is the key.

"I don't like it dirty," said Larson, who lives on the premises.

That means stalls are cleaned daily. Manure is dropped into a dumpster, which is hauled away twice a week. Cobwebs, a special bugaboo, are regularly cleared away. Drainage is maintained - boarders tell a tale of Larson going out one night in her nightgown in a rainstorm to make sure there was no flooding.

"That's one of the cleanest barns I've ever seen," said Diane Smith. Smith, a former owner of Sunshine Feed Depot, and her family board three horses at Southern Star.

The boarders also contribute to the well-run atmosphere, Larson said, because they come out regularly and ride their horses. With regular riding, the horses need less space to run.

[Last modified July 24, 2004, 23:56:20]

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