Home Is Where the Horse Is
When I relocated to Florida in 2012, I knew I wanted to live in an equestrian community. Not just because I would have the option of keeping my horse on my property but also because I looked forward to having neighbors who were equestrians, too. So I moved into a community of more than 200 homes with properties ranging from 2.5- to 5-acre parcels, where owners could ride their horses through residential streets and on common areas throughout the neighborhood. About a dozen horses resided in the neighborhood then, and every mailbox and street sign was topped with a horse head finial.

These days, the number of horses in the community has dwindled to fewer than a handful, most residents are not equestrians, and the horse heads have disappeared from the street signs. Increasingly, neighborhoods originally developed as equestrian communities are becoming more suburban, and horse owners there are challenged to find common ground with their nonequestrian neighbors.

Horse owners have gathered in communities throughout the U.S. since the 1960s, but the widespread development of equestrian communities began in the early 2000s. That’s when builders started dividing large land parcels into residential neighborhoods that included a litany of amenities ranging from riding trails to full-scale boarding barns to designated paddocks to training arenas and site-specific horse trainers. Most came to be located near urban areas to attract not only horse owners but also those interested in bucolic views and country-style living without being miles from the nearest city.

Among them was Three Runs Plantation, in Aiken, South Carolina. Established in 2006, the community includes miles of trails and a pair of areas for dressage and hunter/jumper riders.

Most homeowners in Three Runs are also horse owners, said Jack Roth, a real estate agent who matches equestrians with Three Runs properties. Among them is Ellen Fox, who along with her now 28-year-old off-track Thoroughbred Nicky, relocated to Aiken from California in 2011. Fox said Aikin’s thriving equestrian community initially drew her to the area. These days, its Three Runs’ amenities and equestrian residents that keep her there.

“About 95% of the people who live here have horses,” said Fox. “They are all different ages, and there are people from all different disciplines.”

Convenience is also a factor, she said. Initially, Fox boarded her horse at a barn off-site. These days, he’s just down the street at a neighbor’s barn. Once a week, she takes a lesson with a local trainer and is welcome to join her neighbors on the community’s 30 miles of riding trails.

“We do get together to ride as a group, but we have privacy, too,” she said. “You can go out and ride for two hours and never see anyone.”

But not all equestrian developments have retained their equestrian majority. In Kirkland, Washington, Bridle Trails was originally developed as an equestrian community. Now the development is largely nonequestrian, said real estate specialist Brenda Billington.

“These days there are only a few horses here, because most (home) buyers are in tech industries such as Facebook and Microsoft, and those people don’t have horses,” Billington said.

As a result, equestrian communities have become scarce, and the high cost of land has convinced builders that equestrian communities are too expensive to develop.

“It is very expensive, and developers are building houses on smaller and smaller lots,” Billington said.

As equestrian communities’ demographics change, many horse owners must fight to make sure they don’t get squeezed out of their neighborhoods by Home Owners Associations (HOAs) comprised mainly of nonequestrians, said Eliza Bishop, a horse trainer, home owner at the Wolf Creek community near Houston, and a member of the HOA board there.

“Make sure the HOA rules protect the horses,” she said. “Go to meetings and ask questions that are going to be included in the (meeting’s) minutes – it’s important to be heard.”

Still, even as demographics change, Fox believes horse owners will always be drawn to communities developed with them in mind.

“We all love our horses,” Fox said. “That’s what brings us all together.”