What do strip malls, condominiums and subdivisions have in common? Around America, they are replacing farms and horse ranches, paving over agricultural land, and leaving equine enthusiasts less space to freely own and ride horses. In response to this "progress," there is a recent interest in housing developments that reflect a lifestyle built around horses.
Equine communities-planned residential developments designed for people who own horses-have created an option to being squeezed out of rural areas by commercial developments. But are the developers actually giving horse owners a solution, or are they taking advantage of a situation they've created? Will private horse farms be replaced by equestrian communities to conserve acreage for equine use? Can these communities thrive? And what's to keep the property from being further developed in the future, again pushing horse people out?
City planning commissions or civil engineers will argue that there's far less developed land than agricultural land or forest, but people who own horses feel the pinch. And they've unknowingly become a customer base for residential developers around the country.
Housing Horses and Humans
- Equestrian communities work best when they are small and owners share similar horsekeeping philosophies and riding disciplines.
- A common vet, farrier, barn crew and maintenance crew help keep these arrangements running smoothly.
- Some communities place restrictions on the homeowners, so review covenants carefully and decide whether you can live with them.
- Look for conservation easements, which will protect the land as horse property in the future.
Equestrian communities come in several forms, but two main types are found across the country. The first will be referred to as an "equestrian center subdivision" and the second as "horse farm communities." Both developments are founded on the same purpose: to keep people and horses together on the same property with riding options and amenities.
Advice From Professionals
Sheela Clarkson of Asheville Real Estate Agency in North Carolina has been selling property to horse enthusiasts for over 25 years. Her agency specializes in equine developments, and she advises developers on horse-owner necessities, as well as marketing techniques.
"We have a few equestrian communities that are up and running, with more on the drawing board," Clarkson says.
Like Clarkson, Pam Murray is an equine real estate specialist with RemaxGold in El Dorado Hills, California. She has been selling equestrian real estate for 20 years. An avid horseback rider, she's active in several community horse clubs and volunteers for the California Conservation Trail Patrol.
Here's what both Murray and Clarkson have to say about equestrian developments.
Love Thy Neighbor
The equestrian center subdivision is prominent on the East Coast. This development has individual homes built on small sites surrounding an equestrian center. All the homeowners share common barns, paddocks, riding arenas, and private trails.
Typically, the properties work best when there is a common vet, farrier and barn help to feed, turn horses out, and clean stalls, as well as maintain the entire property. The equestrian center subdivisions are generally governed by condominium-type rules and regulations, with restrictions on building codes, outer home décor, and property use.
The horse barn is a co-op, and the developer usually manages the property. As Clarkson explains, "This type of development usually works for professional people who travel or can't otherwise care for their horses."
On a positive note, the barn, trails and arenas are maintained and residents have "horsey" neighbors. But Clarkson notes that most equestrian center subdivisions don't last.
"I think it's a great idea, but it has problems," she admits. Because horse people are particular, especially when it comes to their horses, residents usually encounter disagreements among themselves. The property manager may then pass horse-related responsibilities to the residents. But in Clarkson's experience, the disagreements only seem to continue.
"It gets difficult with different riding disciplines, people feeding at different times of the day," Clarkson says. "Some people are sloppy and some are clean."
Because of disagreements among residents even when they care for their own horses as they please, the developer eventually wants out.
"Groups of people that can work together and keep it going are rare-it doesn't seem to have a lasting effect," Clarkson says. Many of these facilities end up being private boarding facilities. To better the odds of purchasing a home within a community that will remain intact, search for smaller developments where the residents share your riding discipline.
Down on the Farm
The horse farm community consists of individual horse farms usually ranging in size from one to 20 acres. Each farm has its own barn and paddocks that are maintained by the horse owner. The community usually has easements to private trails, and some of these developments are gated communities with many other amenities.
Murray described a horse farm community in Cool, California, named Auburn Lake Trails, which also has an equestrian center-a private facility with barns and arenas for residents or land owners.
"The community backs up to the Western States Trail System, where there's an annual 100-mile equestrian race," Murray says. "It has 35 miles of trails within the community."
Obviously not just for horse owners, this community, like other equestrian communities in California, offers an inviting environment for anyone who wants to live in a gated community. While many horse farm communities are designated as multipurpose and offer amenities to non-horse owners, Murray cited that 70% of residents own horses.
In California, horse farm communities are often governed by Covenant Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs). The CC&Rs are regulated by homeowners' associations and aim to maintain the aesthetic and monetary property value.
The CC&Rs usually state that, "barns and outbuildings need to match the home, fencing must receive architectural approval, and they dictate the number and type of livestock permitted on the property," says Murray. She adds, "CC&Rs state that the property is for common use-for hikers, bikers and interdisciplinary horseback riding."
Murray doesn't just sell equine real estate; she also lives in a horse farm community named Greenstone Country in Placerville, California.
"We are a very tight community," she says. "We take the horses to swim in the lakes, go for moonlight rides, or pack a picnic and go to the neighbors."
The 12 miles of trails are owned by the development and are permanent easements between homeowners' properties. "This way, the trails won't change," she says.
Murray explained that while her horse community is perfect for her, it's not for everyone. "At times it can feel restrictive." Some people don't want limitations on how they use their property.
Is the Price Right?
While equestrian center subdivisions and horse farm communities may sound intriguing, they cost as much or more than buying your own place. There can be extreme differences in real estate prices around the country, but the coasts of California and Carolina seem comparable for these two types of developments.
Murray said that the most affordable home within an equestrian development in El Dorado County, California, starts at $350,000 plus a monthly home owner's fee of about $130. This gets you one acre with a 1970s home, and use of the barn, trails and arenas. When buying within a development, Murray mentioned a purchase price increase of about $100,000 as opposed to property outside of a development. Her community, Greenstone Country, has homes on one acre starting at $700,000, and she pays annual homeowners' dues of $858 to cover property maintenance.
On the other side of the country, Clarkson explained that in northern North Carolina, land costs from $15,000 to $30,000 per acre within an equestrian center subdivision. Horse owners can buy a home in one starting at around $400,000. These developments also have homeowners' dues comparable to those in California.
Houses that Save Trails
So what's to keep these developments from being split and further subdivided in the future, leaving horse owners in the cold? The answer is conservation easements.
Conservation easements protect the land, like riding trails and farms, from ever being developed. Conservation groups administer the easements, and the land must fit specific parameters.
"They allow you to have horses, fencing and barns," Clarkson says. "Effectively, the property owner is giving up the right to ever develop the land in the future. But the intrinsic value increases, and there are tax credits for preserving natural areas."
Clarkson added that conservation easements differ from zoning laws. Zoning laws are local laws that can change based on the zoning board's vote. Conservation easements are recognized by state and federal governments, and must be administered by a conservation group with a conservation adviser.
"People are concerned with being able to ride in a safe environment-without hauling horses somewhere," says Clarkson. "You used to be able to jump on your horse and go for a ride down the road. Now that's hard to do with developments encroaching on farms and all the liability. All this development has created a need to organize a community of horse people in order to ride on your own property."
Not all equestrian developments are protected by conservation easements. Sometimes only the trail system is protected. But if the property qualifies, it is a guaranteed way to conserve the area, and a viable option for many horse owners within developments.
Before You Buy
If you are enticed by the idea of living in an equine development, here are a few helpful tips:
Always obtain a copy of the current Covenant Conditions and Restrictions, or other guidelines for living within a private horse community. Review this information with a real estate expert, or an attorney specializing in real estate law, to ensure that you fully understand the limitations, amenities, responsibilities and fees with which you'll be living.
Remember that developments with conservation easements ensure your riding trails or other property is safe from development. This can be good or bad, depending on your inclination.
Keep in mind that these often tightly knit communities can offer a sense of security and camaraderie. On the contrary, you might get the feeling that you're living under your neighbor's microscope.
Horse farm subdivisions and equestrian center communities have built-in horse-smart neighbors to help you when necessary-someone to feed and watch over things when you go on vacation, for instance.
So, are horse owners being corralled by developers or helped with solutions? Are these living arrangements realistic or concocted to sell yet another house? However you see it, equestrian communities are an option to simply moving farther away from the city. And when they utilize conservation easements, they preserve the environment. The rest is for you to decide.