Do you have a legal right to own and operate a horse-related business, or is business operation a privilege that can be granted—and taken away—by some governmental agency? Does the answer change if neighbors object to your business?

The answers might have been relatively straightforward years ago, when the United States was an agricultural society and there was a lot of land and not very many people. But times have changed. Horses are viewed as a luxury by many people these days and rapid population growth has been mirrored by a decrease in land available for equine pursuits. Residential development now encroaches on land used for horse businesses—or vice versa, depending on whether you are the operator of a horse business or a neighbor who does not want to live next door to a stable.

Either side can make a compelling case and balancing the competing interests can be a complex process. Consider Larimer County, Colorado, where land use planners have wrestled with the rights vs. regulation debate for 18 months.

Larimer County Commissioners recently approved new regulations for "Horse Business Facilities" with the admirable goal of achieving "enduring land use compatibility that supports both a healthy equine industry and the property rights" of everyone involved. After a flurry of public gatherings, working group meetings, and Commission work sessions and hearings, new regulations were approved in a July 19 vote. This is what they came up with:

The old regulations: Boarding four or fewer horses with no other activities was a so-called "use of right" not requiring government approval. Anything beyond that, such as boarding more than four horses or giving riding lessons, required a Special Review that could take six months to a year and might cost several thousand dollars.

The new regulations: "Use of Right" activities include boarding four horses on a minimum of 10 acres, plus no more than 15 client riding lessons each week. For each additional 2 ½ acres of available land, an additional horse or two more weekly riding lessons are permitted. There is a cap on accessory use set at 20 horses or 55 weekly riding lessons. Additionally, stable lights and speakers must be turned off no later than 9:00pm if the equine facility is located within 250 feet of a residence and only "limited" trailer storage is allowed.

Horse businesses that qualify to operate under the new regulations are not required to obtain a registration certificate. For other equine activities either a less expensive Public Site Plan Review (including a Resource Stewardship Plan, notice to neighbors, and an opportunity for the operator to respond to the concerns and objections of neighbors) or a traditional Special Review may be required.

The idea behind the new regulations is to recognize the importance of horse businesses to the Larimer County economy while acknowledging that owners of land adjacent to the equine operations have significant property rights of their own. It is a balancing act that will be repeated in locations all across the country.

Can horse businesses and residential development peacefully co-exist? For everyone’s sake, let’s hope so.