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How to Have Horses in the Suburbs: 7 Strategies

Keeping horses in the suburbs can be a challenge. From the rising cost of land and property taxes to neighbor concerns about smell, appearance, and safety, owning a horse while living in the suburbs takes a combination of luck, good neighbors and location.

In this article, I share 7 tips for suburban horse keeping based on my own experience of owning a Missouri horse farm surrounded by housing developments and backed up directly to a suburban golf course!

The first step is to decide where you want to keep the horse – either on your own property or at a stable nearby.

Find a Local Stable to Board Your Horse

Finding a local riding stable to board your horse(s) at is a great option, particularly if your own property does not have enough space to safely keep horses. Boarding a horse can be expensive; however, there are often additional perks involved. Access to an arena and full care of your horse are two of the biggest advantages- will full care boarding- you can go out of town on a whim without caring about horse chores!

Keeping your horse at a stable also eliminates the need to care for a barn on your own property, maintain arenas, jumps, and facilities, and often even offers the company of companions to ride with!

Keeping Your Horse on Your Own Property

If you decide to keep the horse on your own property, you will need to do some research to figure out how to do that legally and safely in your neighborhood. If you are able to lawfully keep horses on your suburban property, you will need to set it up for horses, if it’s not already done. There is a lot of work that will need to be done in preparation.

Secure and safe fencing will be necessary for a turn-out space so your horse can stretch their legs. A barn will be necessary for storing hay, feed, and equipment. It will also need to be large enough to provide a communal stall or a stall for each horse unless shelters are provided in turnout areas. Because horses tend not to thrive when kept alone, a desire to keep one horse on your suburban property means you’ll need to prepare to own not one, but two horses.

Strategies for Having Horses in the Suburbs without Issues

Be Aware of Local Laws at City, County, and Neighborhood Level

If you are planning on keeping your horse in the suburbs, it is important to be aware of the local ordinances regarding horses. Some suburbs have strict ordinances that prohibit horses from being kept within city limits. Other suburbs have more lenient ordinances that allow horses to be kept in certain areas, such as agricultural zones. It is important to check with your local city or county government to find out what the ordinances are in your area. You may need to get a special permit from your city or county, but it is worth it to be able to keep horses on your property.

Each state, county, and city will have its own laws regarding where and how livestock can be kept, so it is very important to do your research before setting up your property for your horse. There may be laws regarding how much space per horse is required, and they must have access to a shelter.

Check HOA Rules

Even if your city allows horses on your property, you may be a part of a Homeowner’s Organization that forbids it. If you are part of a homeowner’s association (HOA), check to see if there are any rules or stipulations against having horses on your property. If they do, more research will need to be done to see if you can keep a horse while still remaining compliant.

If you are allowed to have horses by both your local government and your HOA, this means that your property is zoned for horses and you are allowed to keep them there.

Depending on when you joined the HOA or when it was formed, there may be exceptions. As each HOA has its own rules and guidelines, it is important to do the research- perhaps even consulting with a lawyer before spending a large amount of money in hopes of slipping through a loophole in the HOA’s bylaws.

Buy an Existing Horse Property in the Suburbs

One extremely common loophole in city laws that is common in the USA is grandfathered in horse properties. The law usually sounds something like this (in common language): Properties that had horses at the time that the horse-prohibiting ordinance was made into law may continue to house horses indefinitely, unless a period of time (sometimes 6 months, 1 year, or even 5 years) passes during which there is no horse on the property. After this amount of time with no horses on the property, the property is no longer exempt from the rule forbidding horses in that suburban community”

Most horse farms you’ve passed that seem out of place in their suburban location are the result of grandfathering in. Some of these horse properties, because of their exception from the local ordinance, can be very desirable to horse owners seeking a home in the community. More often, however, when sold these properties sell to non-horse owners, and the property’s exemption is nullified.

Here’s an example of local ordinances limiting horse properties in suburban locations.

A horse grazes in a lawn, viewed from a bedroom window.
My suburban horse property was allowed to keep horses thanks to a 35 year old exemption from the ordinance.

Consider Living in an Equestrian Community

If you would like to live in an area with other horse owners, but living in a rural area is not an option, look into an equestrian development. These residential developments are designed for communities of horse owners to live in one area. Some may offer a community arena or appointments with the group vet. These communities are not particularly common; however, they may be a great option if you are looking for like-minded, horse-loving neighbors.

Keep Communication Open with Your Neighbors

Keeping horses in the suburbs means that you’ll be caring for your horses in close proximity to other property owners. One way to help mitigate problems between you and your neighbors is to be upfront with them about your plans, and be willing to keep communicating with them. Even though the horses are on your property, their presence may still affect your neighbors to some degree. Letting the neighbors know that you are open to hearing them out if there is a problem can go a long way.

Also, make sure to keep them in the loop regarding any changes or events that may be disruptive to them, including construction or a lot of cars and people coming and going frequently. People generally don’t like surprises, particularly if the surprises interrupt their day-to-day life, so letting them know these things ahead of time will hopefully help the situation.

Keep the Barn Looking Nice

Keeping the barn area tidy and organized will help keep your neighbors happy. No one wants to look out their window and see an eyesore, let alone look at a growing pile of manure every day!

Trying to keep everything as cleaned up as possible, and using landscaping or fencing to hide the unpleasant aspects of horse life will go a long way with your suburban neighbors. Also, keeping fence in good order will not only help with making the barn look nicer, but keeps the horses safely contained as well. Having a loose horse running through a neighbor’s yard or chewing on their prize-winning flowers will not go over well and can lead to conflict.

I can say firsthand that having a horse break loose and bolt off in a suburban area with busy roads is much, much more stressful than in a rural area or well-fenced property. Consider having a gate across your driveway for additional help confining horses, if the road nearby is busy.

A well-maintained property is good for everyone, horses and neighbors alike.

Be Considerate of Your Neighbors

It is always a good idea to keep your neighbors’ perspectives in mind, particularly if there is going to be a lot of noise and/or commotion going on frequently. If you are teaching riding lessons at your home, consider how loudly you need to yell to be heard and if this would be disruptive to you if you were in your neighbor’s shoes. The same goes for a lot of construction work, or tractor usage. It is a good idea to talk with your neighbors first so they are aware of your situation, and try to work out a compromise that minimizes the disturbance to them without holding you back. 

Final Thoughts on Keeping Horses in the Suburbs

Horses are beautiful animals and are a joy to own. They require a lot of space and equipment to keep them happy and healthy. Traditionally, all that space means having to live in the country or far outside of a city in order to have enough space and freedom to own them.

Living in rural areas is not required for horse ownership, though. If your property is large enough, laws allow it, and you work with your neighbors, you too can have a horse in your very own backyard! Do you own your dream house in the perfect neighborhood, yet want to own a horse? You may not have to pick up and move to the countryside to do so. While it is much harder to keep horses in the suburbs than it is in rural areas, it is definitely not impossible

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