Can you get a horse trailer and a hay truck in and out? Winter as well as summer? If you’re miles off a decent road, ask yourself who’s paying to maintain that road.
I strongly prefer gently rolling to flat land. Most level land in the county has standing water issues in winter. It doesn’t have to be a deal breaker, but know how you’ll manage it. You can’t just bring in dirt or gravel to deal with it. You need a permit for more than 50 yards of fill and there’s a real good reason: if you disturb the flow of water to other properties, you’ll find yourself meeting your new neighbors and the county Permit Department pretty quickly.
Most locals like what we call ‘sandy loam’ which is found in many areas, particularly in west county. This light soil is preferred because it drains well and doesn’t pack too hard. It’s therefore easy on horse feet and has an added bonus: it’s often used as a ‘free’ source of arena sand. Heavy adobe soil, on the other hand, is so sticky when wet that it can actually suck the shoes right off your horses’ feet! Rocky soil is not necessarily a bad thing, offering good drainage, but if rocks are large or lava-like it can be quite hazardous for grazing or riding around.
These include fencing, barns, arenas, hay sheds, and the like. What you need very much depends on what kind of horses and riding you prefer, how many you are keeping and how much care you’re planning to provide. The possibilities are endless… from a simple fenced field, the horse equivalent of a ‘youth hostel’ to heated stables and a covered riding arena, the Taj Mahal of equestrian estates. Safety for your horses, convenience for you and design consistency with the property should be your most important considerations. Some properties have no improvements, but have the possibility for adding them… I call these ‘horse-able’ rather than horse properties.
Permits and Uses
This is a topic that is full of misconceptions. Many different zoning classifications allow horses in Sonoma County. Details of what may be permitted can be found on the Permit and Resource Management Department website. It’s my view that each parcel should be individually researched to find out exactly what is allowed.
In general, most subdivisions will not allow horses, although equestrian estates such as the Foothill Ranch, Loch Haven and Diamond A in Sonoma, are notable exceptions. These areas offer trail access as well as bylaws designed to encourage equestrian use.
On rural property, if you’re keeping horses solely for personal use, then most rural residential or agriculturally zoned property will allow 1 horse per 20,000 sq. ft. of land (that’s just under ½ acre per horse). Some zoning will allow more horses on 2+ acre parcels but every parcel should be thoroughly researched before purchase.
Flies and odors are the hot topics that get neighbors (and the County) excited. Responsible horse owners will have a management plan that deals with fly control, how manure will be handled to minimize odor, and how groundwater will be protected. Consultants are available to help put these plans in place and expedite your permits through the planning process with the county. Contact me if you need a referral.