Horse Owners Love Your Neighbor

Written By: Admin
Published: February 1, 2015

Love your neighbor sounds good, but when one has a neighbor who complains to Sonoma County PRMD (Permit & Resource Management Department), Fish & Wildlife, or Regional Water Quality it is sometimes hard to think  “Love”.  The complaining citizen now knows how to get the different agencies’ attention.  I’m sure you have heard these before: too much dust, flies, smells, and manure issues.  As soon as there is any complaint about sediment or manure getting into a waterway or creek, a red light is set off and the complaint is investigated.

Sometimes there is no problem and the horse facility is doing everything possible, but the neighbor knows the environmental buzzwords, “Manure into Creek”, “Smells, Dust, Flies”, etc.  Some facilities are so caught up in the daily schedules of feeding, cleaning, training, and exercising that they overlook simple solutions.  For example, a 1,000 sq. foot roof generates 600 gallons of water.  This water needs to be directed away from manure areas.  Keep clean water clean.  The solution: gutters and down spouts directing water to grassy areas to perk down, not flow over manure or through paddocks without vegetation.

Are you ready for this winter?  Remember it is easier to love your neighbor when he or she is not complaining about your facility.

Consider these simple tasks: 

  1. Store rock to be used as needed.
  2. Rock all gates, water troughs, and heavy use areas.
  3. Plant and mulch bare pastures, and remove the horses from hillsides and wet pastures.
  4. Check all gutters and down spouts, repairing any breaks and leaks.
  5. Keep horses out of creeks and off banks.
  6. Cover manure storage and compost.
  7. Monitor fields making sure no manure or water running through manure is entering creeks or drainage.

As far as the local county government is concerned, when the General Plan was updated horses were placed in the Agriculture Element.  The Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD), however, still has concerns whether they are agriculture or not.  The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) states that a farm is “any place from which $1,000 or more of agriculture products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the year.”  The definition of a farm was first established in 1850 and has changed nine times since. The current definition was first used for the 1974 census.  Only owned horses contribute to the farm definition.  Horses that are not owned will be included in published totals when a place otherwise qualifies as a farm.  Horses contribute to the farm definition when they are on places that are reported by respondent as being of one acre or more of land in farms.  But try and apply for Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) grants through the National Resource Conservation Service and they will tell you horses are not part of agriculture.  For all other agriculture producers cows (there are now more horses than cattle in the county), vineyards, nursery, etc. are eligible to receive up to $400,000 in grants to improve the environment with creeks, banks, erosion and sediment control receiving high priorities.

At the latest meeting of the Farm Bureau’s Animal Resource Committee the representative from the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service stated that the New Farm Bill has changed this. After talking with the service personally, they said as of now the Federal Agency is only dealing with the carrying capacity of the land with the horses.

The horse industry has come along way in the thirty-five years I have been involved.  The General Plan now has an update to the agriculture element recognizing horses as part of agriculture.  The Santa Rosa Junior College completed the Warren Dutton Ag Pavilion with a 20 horse barn, two arenas and culinary and winery areas.  SRJC has a state certification for Equine Education Programs.

The latest economic report stated that there are more than 26,000 horses in the county with an economic impact of $613 million annually for Sonoma County businesses. The industry supports over 7,700 jobs, and provides over $11 million in annual local tax revenues for Sonoma County governments from direct spending on equine ownership totaling $464 million. There are ripple effects on Sonoma County that add to the equine industry’s local economic footprint.

There are new parks throughout the county, as well as a turf track at the Fairgrounds.  All these accomplishments and programs speak well for the future of the horse industry.  We expect more progress towards getting horses recognized as part of Agriculture.  As a participating horse owner each one of you can respect your neighbor, be good stewards of the land, and protect the creeks and waterways.

Currently Michael Murphy is a Realtor and an Equine Environmental Management Consultant.  For five years he taught a course at SRJC titled “Horse Keeping –A Guide to Land Management for Clean Water”.  He is a member of the Farm Bureau Animal Resource Committee representing the equine since 1990. Later he became an Associate Director of the Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District for several years.

In 1992 he was the Founding President of the Horse Council, remaining president for 12 additional years. In 2000 he was the President of the Sonoma County Fair Board of Directors followed by becoming a National Director of Back Country Horsemen of America representing California for 11 years. For the past 20 years Michael has done volunteer service patrolling state and local parks on horseback with the Mounted Assistance Unit.

Michael can be reached at: 707-544-0472,,

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