Zoning – Always check it out

One consideration that often gets overlooked when you are  thinking of buying property to house your horses is whether or not it is zoned for “livestock” and if so if there are any restrictions on numbers and types of animals that can live there.

If you are coming to country life from a densely populated city the two acres you bought may seem vast enough to house an entire team of Clydesdales, but the reality is often different. Zoning varies so much from state to state and county to county it is always advisable to contact your County’s planning department before you buy your dream acreage, get ready to build your barn and then discover that while you are allowed to keep 20 chickens you are not permitted to have one let alone both of your horses onsite.

Most counties have some form of Agricultural zoning and horses are generally permitted within those zones. But don’t take it for granted because you cannot find horses specifically excluded in the table of allowable uses that it is OK .. no matter what friends or the realtor may tell you. ALWAYS call the county planning department and if possible get a written confirmation not only that horses are allowed  on the piece you have in mind but just how many  of them you can legally keep there.

If you have the least inkling that you may at some point want to operate a commercial stable ( which is also something defined differently across counties) check to be sure that that will also be allowed. If you are just looking for a little place to call your own all this may seem excessive but it is really a lot cheaper than buying a property and finding out from your neighbor- who hates horses that you cannot keep all your equine friends with you.

One thing that is universal in the planning world is that zoning infraction enforcement is entirely complaint driven. So if you have been keeping horses in violation of the zoning code because your neighbor likes to feed them carrots and you get a new neighbor who is asthmatic… you can expect trouble. But if your property is zoned correctly, your neighbor may become unpleasant but they cannot force you to get rid of your animals.

Most counties now have some type of interactive map that can give you basic information about zoning such as this one for Santa Barbara County in California. http://sbcountyplanning.org/permitting/zoning/findmyzone/SBC_SYV.cfm

Some require you to have a good idea of where your parcel is located, while others let you find your exact parcel by address such as this website for Maryland.


Often these sites will give you not only zoning information but all the parcel sales information and whether or not there are any easements located on site….all good things to know before you take up residence. They are a good place to start but remember to follow up with a phone call to get all the details, when I worked in Santa Barbara county the woman who worked the front desk had been there for 30 years and she knew the history of almost every piece of land in the County, what had happened on it and what had not been able to be done…an old-fashioned way to find information but a tried and true one!


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Shelly Ingram

I am a third generation horsewoman; My father operated a 50 horse boarding and training facility in northern California, where he specialized in re-training spoiled horses. I was his demonstration rider and general assistant in all aspects of running the ranch. I went on to work for several major show and race horse trainers, eventually opening my own barn where I focused on Junior and Amateur riders. I have trained numerous champion horses and riders on all levels and in variety of disciplines. I have also worked as a journalist and have more than a decade of experience in land use planning.

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