Horse owner Alan Shank kept horses on his downtown Mukilteo, Washington, property for 16 years and maintained positive relationships with nonhorsey neighbors.

Photo: Alayne Blickle

A friend recently asked for advice on how to make a good impression on non-horsey neighbors since she was getting two new sets of neighbors in one month--each living on 2.25-acre lots in their close community.

In answer to her question I consulted with another friend, Alan Shank, a horse owner and former conservation district farm planner. Alan and his wife, Mary, had horses for many years on very small acreage in the midst of a bustling Puget Sound community, surrounded by high-price homes--as well as ferries, trains, highways and crowds.

“When I was surrounded by nine close neighbors (our barn was 35 feet from one neighbor’s kitchen window and in the view path for all nine homes) my thought was ‘Why would anyone object to seeing beautiful horses outside their window if there was no unsightly manure pile, little to no odor, a relatively weed-free and mown pasture, and few flies or rodents?’” says  Shank, and for him the answer proved to be, they wouldn’t.

“All my neighbors loved having the horses nearby. I encouraged them to call me if odors or anything else concerned them," Shank explains. "Occasionally, I would ask them how it was going having my horses nearby. I would tell them what I was doing with the property and with the horses and why. I would invite them to events like farm tours or if a horse trainer was coming to work with the horses.”

“It's very important to maintain the fence line in good condition; no weeds and grass growing up in it and the fence itself kept in good repair and visibly pleasing,” says Shank. “That is probably the biggest job. Otherwise, I would be doing everything else anyway: compost bins, sacrifice area, mowing and fertilizing the pasture, weed control, maintaining gutters and downspouts to reduce paddock mud, odor control, and fly control.”

To sum it up, here are key ways horse owners can be a good neighbor:

  • Create a sacrifice area or paddock to prevent your pastures from being overgrazed, particularly during winter. Using a sacrifice area keeps horses from destroying pastures. It also confines manure and urine to an area where you can more easily manage it. Surround this area by a grassy buffer such as lawn or pasture to act as a filter for contaminated runoff. Using a footing in this area such as coarse washed sand or crushed rock will help cut down on mud problems in the winter months.
  • Implement a manure management program. Pick up manure on a regular basis in confinement and high-traffic sites. Store and compost manure in a covered area. Compost is a rich soil amendment which both you and possibly your neighbors might want to help improve productivity of pastures, lawns, and gardens.
  • Plant along ditches, creeks, and water bodies. A buffer of native grasses or other vegetation helps stabilize stream banks, prevents soil erosion and filters out nutrients and sediments--and reduces weeds and dust. Plus it improves aesthetics.
  • Add all little wildlife habitat of native plants to your property. More and more wildlife habitat is being lost as land is subdivided and developed. Pastures themselves don’t provide good habitat for most wildlife so consider incorporating native plants in buffer areas, hedgerows or unused corners. Soon you’ll notice native birds and small animals. Hang bird and bat boxes and you might just attract more insect-eating animals to help manage your mosquito and fly populations – for you and your neighbors.

Views, smells, weeds and pests will travel across fence line and create potential offenses to neighbors so the emphasis is on aesthetics, both visiblility- and olfactorywise. Shank adds, “The basic good land management techniques go a long way in preventing anything undesirable from presenting itself to the neighbors.”

What techniques have you found works for you in your non-horsey neighborhood?


Alayne