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Thursday, May 1, 2014

First time buyers – What are the restrictions for keeping horses?

Question - I want to buy a place out in the country and keep horses. Where can I go to find out if I can and what’s required?

Answer – Well first let’s establish if you have the wherewithal to even consider this option. In order to keep horses (or any farm animals) you are going to need facilities on the property to house the animals. That means either buying a place with those facilities in place or building them once you own the property. Both of those options mean having the money for them. Starting from scratch and building horse facilities can get very
expensive very fast.

Sometimes you may find what looks to be a property with everything in place to just move in and bring in your horse(s), but check it out first. Many old farms had barns that may still be useful; however, that is not the only “facilities” that are required. If the farmer sold off most of the land, you may not have sufficient space left for pasture and corals, which are another requirement.

Most townships, in Michigan anyway, have zoning ordinances that define the requirements that the property must meet in order to keep farm animals or horses. Those requirements often specify the minimum amount of pasture space per horse.  Those requirements vary by location, so check with the local township office. Most townships also have a requirement for some sort of building to house the animals. For horses that can be as simple as a walk-in stall. Again, you should check with your local township zoning or building officials. There will likely be specific set-back and size requirements. Keep in mind too that you’ll need a place to store hay and straw and perhaps to park your horse trailer.

There will likely be restrictions on how much and where you can fence in the property for pasture purposes. Many Michigan Townships require that all fenced in pasture land be behind the front of the house.  There may also be restrictions or requirements about the type of fencing that may be used, especially if it is visible from the street.

There will also be restrictions on the number and size of outbuildings that may be built. In and around my area of Milford, Michigan for instance it is basically impossible to build a new indoor riding arena. The townships have such strict requirements that they have effectively stopped that type of building. Even building an outdoor arena might be a challenge in some areas. Building a bigger barn that could house many horses will probably not be possible in many areas. Certainly building and running a facility for boarding horses will be regulated.

Now, the further out in the countryside one goes the less regulation there seems to be, but then the longer the drive to work. Another thing to consider is whether the area surrounding where you want to live with your horses is rider friendly. Many horse people in this are tend to congregate around the large state parks and recreation areas, because they all seem to have very good riding trail networks. Sometimes if you just go way far out in the country the only place to ride is along the roadways, which may not be what you had in mind.

Thus far we've talked only about horses; but what if you wanted to keep other animals. Again the best bet is
to talk to the local Township people. Some areas are designated as Agricultural and some as Residential. It is possible to have horses on property zoned for residential, so long as you meet the other requirements; however, keeping cows or pigs or other farm animals is likely a different story. Even alpacas, which seem like cute cuddly animals may not be permitted in residential zoned areas. Check with the township before you start buying your animals. Even chickens, which one would assume are innocuous, may not be kept in most residential zoned areas.


If you've never had horses and this is just a dream or idea that you have, I’d recommend spending some time with or around horses and horse facilities; so that you get a better idea about all that is involved. This is not like getting a puppy or a cat. And taking on the care and feeding of a horse is a big obligation, especially if you have long work hours. Perhaps investigating what it would cost to use a horse boarding facility near you would be a good start, if you are determined to have a horse. 

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