Two months ago we were horrified when we received a certified letter from the county zoning department saying that were in violation of a zoning law. We had to many horses for the size of our property. We had six horses and could only have three. They said we had to get rid of three horses or face fines and possibly go to court over the problem. We were to get rid of part of our family, of our beloved companion animals. We were terrified. We had never expected anything like this and didn't know what to do.
This is a WARNING to all horse owners (actually all pet/companion animal owners) to be aware that it can happen at any time.
When we first moved to our home here in the New Mexico high desert country I went to the trouble of checking with several offices to try to find out what the rules where as far as having dogs, cats, and horses. I had talked about this with the builder that built our home, with the real estate agent that we went through to buy it and they said they were only aware of the fact that we could have horses here. They didn't know of any rules or laws. In fact being able to have horses was one of the things they were really pushing as far as selling property in this area. To be on the safe side I called city animal control, county animal control, the livestock board, and city and county zoning. All these offices were iffy about giving me a straight answer and always came up with "you can have how ever many you can properly take care of".
That was five years ago. During that time I had spoken with county animal control about some mean dogs that ran loose and then about my stupid neighbors that moved of abandoning their dog, and about a horse, (a stallion) that frequently got loose and came to 'visit' my horses and did some minor damage to my fences. Never during those discussions did the animal control officer ever say anything about our having to many horses. The sheriff helped another neighbor and my husband catch the neighbors loose horse at one time. Again the sheriff never said anything about us or any of the other horse owners in our neighborhood having to many horses.
So far I have been able to find only three other families that were told they had to many horses for their property size. I have spoken with two others that say they never received such a letter even though they have more horses than the letter said you could have. I know of at least a dozen other properties that have more than the allowed number of horses, and I do not believe any of them have received that letter.
The four of us that received the letter contacted zoning. One family did something with one of their horses so they would be in compliance. I don't know what. Another family already in the process of buying another home and were given an extension until they can move. Another family hired a lawyer and are taking it to court.
When we talked to zoning we were advised that it was the family that was going to court that they were really after and that if we would apply for a continuance use permit as a boarding stable we would be alright. So we paid the fee and filed the form. Then we were told it would have to go before the zoning board at their next meeting to be approved but that it shouldn't be a problem; that it should go right through. In the mean time I received a call wanting us to send zoning a copy of our property survey and to draw in the pens and shed used by the horses, as well as a letter telling about our horses and why we have so many. We did that. Saying that three horses were ours and one belonged to a friend in Iraq and the two ponies were my sons.
So we waited and the day of the zoning meeting came and we went. I was surprised to find what I guessed to be about 300 people there due to a big disagreement over a purposed housing development in another part of the county. It was crowded, standing room only and very hot. I almost left not thinking that it was that important for me to be there. It was. Finally after over an hour they started in on my permit to have a boarding stable. One man on the zoning board was against it and another seemed to be for it. I had to walk before all those people and tell why we wanted the boarding stable. I was almost petrified to do it but knew I had to. They were trying to take part of my family away from me. I even heard someone say "why doesn't she just get rid of some of them", as if my horses, my pets, my companions were just pieces of trash to be thrown away.
The man that seemed to be for us told how the law stated that we had to have 20,000 square feet per horse which was how much that the law figured it took to feed (graze) a horse. I tried to explain that I don't graze my horses on pasture. I don't have a pasture. I buy hay to feed them. That everyone that has horses in this area buys hay. That this desert land will not support a horse no matter how many square feet you have. The man that was for us explained the law had been passed in the early 1950's and it was based on a law passed in New Hampshire in the early 1930's. A VERY DUMB LAW. Even in the the 1950's it was a dumb law considering the difference between New Mexico and New Hampshire.
It was decided by the board that the matter would be "shelved" for the next two months so they could have a "horse specialist" look at the situation. It was not explained what or who a "horse specialist" was or is. I have called the zoning office for a farther explanation and no one has returned my call.
After all this we lost my beloved Morgan, BlackJack, as you may know as I posted it a few days ago. The person that left Sonny in our care while she was in Iraq has now contacted me saying she does not want the horse and he is now mine to do with as I see fit. Of course I plan to keep him. He has been here so long that he thinks he belongs here and that he is our horse. (I would have cried if she had come and taken him away.) Of course the ponies are my sons but I love them just as if they were mine. In fact I have told him he can't ever have them and he says he doesn't plan to take them. He has enough problems of his own and just wanted a home for two ponies that were homeless when he got them.
Now we wait. We are unsure of what to do next or what will happen. We can't afford to hire a lawyer. And I don't think I could find a home for any of my horses or ponies that I would feel would take care of them to my specifications. We are on a limited budget as we are retired but at this time we can take care of these five horses. These horses aren't hurting anyone. Neither are any of the other horses in our area. I don't know of any horses that I have seen that are underfed, mistreated or abused, which is saying a lot for an area this large. Our neighbors that don't have horses are as appalled by this as those with horses. No one understands why this problem has come up. Did someone complain - and if so who, and why.
If anyone has any suggestions I will be glad to hear them.