This Tuesday was "the big meeting" - the one where our tiny city would decide the fate of horse and livestock ownership for its residents.
Only, that's not how it turned out.
Apparently, decision-making works differently than I had thought. This meeting was actually just a "discussion" of complaints (another one) which the Planning Committee would listen to. After that, the Planning Committee will meet (who knows when), discuss the discussion, and make a recommendation to the City Council. The Council may or may not decide to take action based on the Committee's recommendation. So... we've got a long way to go until things are decided. Which is good and bad - it mostly means that we'll have to pay attention and attend a slew of meetings over the next 6 months or so.
Politics are fun, eh?
I think every horse owner in town, and several livestock owners (donkeys, goats, and llamas) were at the meeting. That's AWESOME! It means they're paying attention and are concerned. We started out positively enough, with everyone writing down their concerns on a Post-It, once issue per sticky, and putting them up on a white board in front of the room. Then we all organized the stickies into categories for discussion.
Things fell apart after that. We tried to agree that part of the goal of out town is to preserve our rural heritage, which includes livestock ownership. Most agreed, but one person (a horse owner?!?!) did not. That item got tabled. We had a discussion about mandatory registration of livestock with the city, and mandatory vaccinations. I pointed out that the state had no such requirement, so why would we? Mind you, I'm not terribly opposed to registering my livestock with the city (namely so that in an emergency like fire, they can get them out), but I don't want to be FORCED to do it. Same with vaccinations and worming - I vaccinate and worm, but far less than most boarding stables require because I have done my research and this is what I am comfortable with. I understand the risks to my horses (both to vaccinate and not), and it's an informed decision. Others may disagree, and that's OK - I'm not going to force you to vaccinate and you're not going to force me. Agreed?
Haha. If I learned anything from this meeting, it's that you can't get more than one person to agree on pretty much anything. Makes it rather hard to make any sort of decision, you know?
And of course, if you get two horse people together, they can swap stories for HOURS. Imagine a room full, all of whom want to have their opinions about pretty much everything heard. At the end of the two-hour meeting, we really hadn't accomplished much. But two things became clear:
There have been general complaints about a couple of things: manure left on streets and on the trails, horses being ridden off the trails, and horses being ridden on the trails when the trails were wet. There was a meeting of horse owners back in December where these things were discussed, and since then, the City has not received a single complaint about any of those things. Score one for the horse owners!
The second issue took me a while to figure out. Toward the end of the meeting, one of the folks toward the back of the room said that he was really upset about how this was going, because the key issues that needed to be addressed - flies, manure, and smell - had not been. And he wanted to know what he was supposed to do about these issues when he'd talked to the neighbor that was causing the problem and the issue was not resolved. Another gentleman sitting next to him spoke up and said the same thing. The problem was so bad he could not sit outside because of the flies, and the stench was so bad his grandkids didn't want to go outside to play. What was he supposed to do? Another woman spoke up and asked if we could limit the number of horses per acre. EEEEK!
As they talked, I realized what was going on. These folks were the neighbors of the guy down the street who, at one point, had 10 horses in a 1/4 acre paddock. When it rained, the horses were hock-deep in mud, manure, and flies. So not cool, in my opinion. The neighbors had talked to the guy, and apparently they felt like not enough has been done to address the problem. There's an enormous pile of manure that stinks in the heat and wet, and the flies are a huge problem. I think there are four horses there now, but there's a privacy fence so I really cannot tell.
We all left the meeting feeling like things were unresolved, I think, but at least we know the cause of the problem. I've talked to the neighbor with the horses - he says the manure is composting and doesn't smell, and that he's got out fly traps and such. In reality, flies are a part of livestock ownership - my horses are on Simplifly, plus I've got traps out that I replace pretty regularly, but still, there are bugs. Manure doesn't have to be such a problem, though. I have a couple who take almost all of my manure (I compost some for the garden and for the track and pastures, and YES IT SMELLS), and I believe we are allowed one truckload of "lawn refuse" per week at the city dump. In other words, there are mechanisms by which you can get rid of your manure. Just do it already!
So where does this leave us? I believe the neighbors of this guy are going to file a nuisance complaint with the county, and also something with Animal Control. When hubby gets back, he and I are going to take the guy out for coffee and ask how we can help. I'm willing to help shovel manure to get things back to square one, if it means that he will keep up with it and make some changes that satisfy his neighbors.
On a good note, I did get to talk to one of the ladies on the planning committee who wanted to limit the number of horses per acre. I took her aside after the meeting and pointed out that there was no hard and fast rule, it all has to do with management. There's a single horse down the street on about one acre that's almost completely trashed - only weeds grow and he's fetlock-deep in mud when it rains. And then there are our four on two acres, and you practically cannot tell we have horses. Our pastures are green and mown, there aren't any piles of horse poop to be seen (except in the back corner, where the manure pile is), and while there are flies, there aren't many. I invited her over to our house to see how we run things, but reiterated that mileage may vary and it's all about management. I think she heard what I had to say, although I am concerned that our neighbor down the street with one horse may be told that her management practices are not acceptable.
Small-town politics. Sigh.