EnivroHorse Public Issue Paper: Fears and Facts
The Sky is Falling! The Sky is Falling!
Or How to Deal with Foolish Fears about Horses
By Cyla Allison, Ph.D.
Your local township, county or town legislature
or zoning board publishes an agenda with a proposal to limit horse use
and horse keeping because they fear that equines spread disease.
After you finish sputtering with disbelief and
anger, what do you do to counter their ignorant assertions and
thoughtlessness? You know that you and your children and friends have
lived around horses all your lives without becoming ill from disease,
but the legislators do not.
It is important that you become knowledgeable about
the process this particular legislative body uses; learn about
deadlines for submission of papers and hearings, how decisions are made
and how to access the system. Julie I. Fershtman's article in the Fall
issue of ECLR The Resource is a basic and accurate summary.
Our country has become increasingly anxious in the
last year or so. War, terrorist attacks, fears of Anthrax, small pox
and Tuleremia are on the minds of Americans. In an attempt to sooth
ourselves, we try to reduce our risk; therefore, some of us are afraid
to fly, cross bridges or have our children go for a hike in the woods
from of fear of some catastrophic event.
The best antidote to fear is knowledge. You know
that you feel safe living around horses; you need to help the lawmaker
and community feel just as safe.
Read the proposed document carefully; read between
the lines if you must. Try to determine which fears are foremost and
spend your efforts dispelling misperceptions. You may need to separate
horses from other mentioned animals such as goats or chickens.
If you were unable to head off the legislative
attack before it got to a public hearing, you need careful preparation
to attend the meeting.
It is wise to have a well-spoken constituent call a
representative before the meeting to hear what the legislator considers
the "real problem". This call is in reality a "fishing expedition;"
knowledge is power-the more you know about the issues, the better you
can address them. In other words, keep in mind that there are public
reasons (frequently phony) and private reasons. Is this a political
payback for lack of support by a prominent horseperson at the last
election, somebody's personal neighborhood feud, a developer's ploy to
avoid easements? Is it a move by another user group to play "all mine"
and "you can't have any?"
If possible, have different people call all the
board members or legislators involved in the panel. If it is a zoning
hearing, the calls may need to be made to the legislator involved and
not the zoning personnel. Letters are effective. For every letter an
elected official receives, he figures 10 other people feel the same
way. Petitions are helpful, but not nearly as effective as letters.
Handwritten letters are fine.
. Most legislative meetings have a protocol for
signing in, identifying you, the speaker, and the subject of your talk.
Use your business card. If you don't have an appropriate card, make one
with your horse affiliation on it. If you own a business, even not
horse related, that is a plus as you are seen as a more powerful person
who affects non-horse people in the community.
There are usually rules about how long a person in
the audience can speak. Be prepared to speak briefly, maybe as little
as three minutes. Always begin by thanking the panel for an opportunity
to express your point of view. Identify your qualifications to speak.
Frequently the meetings are held at awkward times-a
2 pm on a Tuesday afternoon when most people have to be at work. Be
I have been asked to speak in different townships.
Some unfriendly chairmen exclude talks from those who are not
residents. You can have a resident read your comments or have a written
and even notarized letter that asks you to speak for a resident who
can't make the meeting or has laryngitis.
Numbers count. Have a phone chain in place. Call
all members, former members, tack storeowners, barn owners. Ask them to
come down and register to speak. They don't have to speak when their
time comes; they can simply stand up and say, "I agree with the
comments of. . . ." or "I would like to add just one thing to the
comments of . . . ." Many people are afraid to speak in public. Simply
having a number of silent interested polite horsepeople at a hearing is
Have your comments typed attractively, on an
identifying letterhead with contact information about you and your
organization. Place the comments in one of those folders with pockets
and a place for your business card. Include other information in it and
give a copy to the person taking notes as well as one for each member
of the board (usually 5, or 7 or 9 people). Have copies of your talk
and business cards ready to hand out to the press.
In the folder, for example, you might also include
a typical newsletter, a flyer about a trail ride, some information
about a fund raising benefit by a local equestrian group, something
about a trail clean up, some economic impact information. Emphasize
that horse activities are family activities for ordinary people.
Pictures of children and horses are a positive PR move. Be professional.
Remember there is a prejudice that horse people are
either ruffians or rich people with their noses in the air. There is
jealousy and you don't want to feed it. You want to look like and
behave like the neighbor we all want to have.
And you are.
Let me review some of the most likely arguments:
1) FEAR: Horses spread West Nile disease. FACT:
Horses, just like humans, are dead end hosts. They can get the disease
but they cannot spread it. Mosquitoes spread West Nile; infected birds
spread the disease from region to region. Refer them to the Centers for
Disease Control web site.
2) FEAR: Horses spread Rabies. FACT: Horses can
be and should be inoculated against Rabies. Only 5 or 6 species can be
inoculated against rabies-humans, dogs, cats, ferrets, cattle and
horses. Check your state and county statistics through the web site for
Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Your local health department may
also have rabies statistics. Horses are not a significant rabies
vector. Bats, raccoons and other wild animals spread rabies; livestock
such as cattle and sheep can be inoculated, but rarely are as the
expense would be prohitive. Some animals are inoculated "off-label"
which means that the veterinarians think that the inoculation works,
but that the vaccination has not been "approved." The point to make is
that horses do not spread rabies; for an urban environment where horses
come in contact with the public, it would be reasonable to require
3) FEAR: Horses bring e coli FACT: Horse manure
is clean; it spreads no disease. Human excrement, dog poop and cat
feces are infinitely dirtier. Barn workers, our children, veterinarians
and riders do not come down with e coli unless they go to a restaurant
with bad food.
Improperly kept horse facilities can pollute, no
doubt. Overflowing trash, roadside runoff, the fertilizers and
pesticides we put on our lawns and cigarette smoke also pollute.
However, we don't ban trash, roads, fertilizers or cigarettes, we
Horse people do not want to keep their horses in an
unpleasant atmosphere because that is not good for horses or neighbors.
To set requirements for proper composting bins, placement of dumpsters
or periodic removal of manure from the facility is reasonable. Much of
Long Island's horse manure is gleefully harvested for vineyards and
4) FEAR: Horses bring flies. FACT: Any outdoor
activity brings flies. Visit your local campground, park and picnic
area for proof. Stables work hard at controlling the fly population;
researches have found products that horses eat to kill fly larvae; they
can use organic means such as a certain type of non stinging wasp can
be released around barns to keep the fly population low; in addition,
the regime of every barn includes daily individual fly control. Compare
such efforts to the regime for fly control waged at your local picnic
area, fishing site, dog or cat kennel.
5) FEAR: Rats. FACT: The greatest attraction for
rodents is the backyard bird feeder. Better the legislators ban bird
feeders if they really want to make a dent in the rodent population.
Horse people do not like rodents either. Every barn has organic rat
catchers-cats. Every barn keeps its food supplies as inaccessible as
possible for two reasons: a horse that gets into food and eats too much
can die and, secondly, unwanted rodents who get into the food pollute
6) FEAR: Smell. FACT: Spreading fertilizer on
crops smells; perhaps we should ban that. Elementary Schools at the end
of the day smell; gasoline pumps smell; people can absolutely stink;
buses and diesel engines smell; freshly stacked firewood smells, garlic
and onions smell. Which of these "smells" is dangerous to our health?
Are we going to legislate preference? I like the smell of a barn and
leather. I hate the smell of new plastic, heavy perfume and ammonia.
Nobody is advocating we tolerate a stinky barn; we are saying that
nature has natural smells. A dry barn does smell like horses inside. I
love that smell. Outside, it does not have an odor at all.
7) FEAR: Horses are a nuisance. FACT: Horses make
good neighbors. They don't have late night parties, their teen-age
children don't roar up and down the street with loud mufflers or
motorcycles and they don't bark when their owners aren't home. People
with horses are taking care of them; they and their children have
little time to loiter, to do drugs, to vandalize. Horses do not require
us to pay increased taxes to educate them, register them to vote or to
subsidize their medical care. They do not require air conditioning or
8) FEAR: Horses decrease property values. FACT:
Horses increase the property values across neighborhoods. They are a
quality of life issue that holds back the flood of urbanites who want
to pave and edge their entire property; plant exotic and non native
species in their overly landscaped yards and run their chlorine fed
pool pumps all day long. Dare anyone to watch a day of TV commercials
or look through a national magazine without seeing horses linked to a
healthy and meaningful life.
9) FEAR: Horses are dangerous. FACT: Horses are
vegetarians. Horses do not attack anything, as they themselves are the
prey animals. Dogs can attack, cats can attack, humans can attack,
raccoons can attack, and parrots can attack. Horses run away from
Once you begin to think and present logically by
providing scientific information to calm unwarranted fears, you make it
easier for the administrator or public official to make a judgment in
your favor. You want to present yourself and your group as fellow
concerned citizens (who vote!) who understand the difficulty of making
If the decisions don't go your way in one hearing,
be sure to follow up by meeting with the individual politicians and
administrators. Rules and regulations are rarely written in stone and
persistence can make considerable headway. Also look at state law that
might supercede a local legislation. Your local board of town leaders
may not know that the regulations they are proposing are actually
subsumed under a state or federal law on the books.
Each of us has to be aware and willing to make the effort to speak up to conserve a historic and healthy way of life.
These materials have been prepared by EnviroHorse for information purposes
only and are not legal advice. Subscribers and online readers should not act
upon this information without seeking professional
counsel. Every attempt has been made to assure that the information
contained in this publication is accurate. EnviroHorse assumes no
responsibility and disclaims any liability for any injury or damage
resulting from the use or effect of any product or information
specified in this publication.
identifies, gathers, and disseminates information to ensure/enhance
equine access to public / private lands. Where data gaps exist,
EnviroHorse sponsors research with others to fill them.