Let Horses Play Piano, Too

Let Horses Play Piano, Too

Horse Riding Lessons Allowed

Great Falls resident Kim Karanik navigated a three-and-a-half-year obstacle course to make riding activities and equestrian lessons more accessible and available to county children.

“I stand by the strength children gain from riding,” she testified before the Planning Commission on Thursday, Jan. 12.

Dranesville Supervisor John Foust served as a course judge of sorts, Karanik said, helping her navigate county policy along the way. The county created an Equestrian Task Force which published a report in March 2012 that claimed “zoning regulations act as obstacles in providing equestrian opportunities for private horse owners as well as commercial equestrian-related providers.”

The Planning Commission held a public hearing Thursday, Jan. 12, to discuss a change to zoning ordinance that will allow “small scale horseback riding lessons as a home occupation subject to specific limitations designed to minimize the impact of the lessons on surrounding properties,” according to Planning Commission documents.

THE BOARD of Supervisors will hold its public hearing on Feb. 14.

Specifically, the proposed ordinance would allow residents to conduct riding lessons at home like piano lessons, tutoring, or other private instruction activities.

According to Planning Commission documents, hours of operation would be limited from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to minimize impact on surrounding neighbors; and all horses for riding must be kept on the property and can’t be transported or ridden to the property for lessons. On lots between two and five acres, the maximum amount of instruction is eight students in one day and no more than two students can be given lessons at any given time. On lots five acres or more, a maximum of four students can be taught at any given time.

“This has garnered so much support from the riding and equestrian community,” said at-large Planning Commissioner Janyce Hedetniemi. “It has been encouraging to those of us who love horses here in Fairfax County.”

About six equestrian supporters testified in support after another Great Falls resident highlighted impacts that the proposed ordinance could have on surrounding neighbors.

“This type of applicant needs to be given public scrutiny. There’s a huge difference between indoor piano lessons and outdoor horseback riding instruction,” she said, asking who will monitor care of the horses and the amount of activity that takes place.

No special events will be permitted. “Good luck enforcing that,” said the Great Falls resident.

The zoning ordinance passed unanimously, but Mount Vernon Planning Commissioner Earl Flanagan urged all to stay involved so the county can monitor the effectiveness of the ordinance, if passed by the supervisors, as well as “fine-tune” necessary specifications.

CURRENTLY, A SPECIAL PERMIT to teach riding lessons requires a $8,180 application fee, just to start the process.

“While evidence is anecdotal, the equestrian community has seen a long-term decline in the number of riding programs available in Fairfax County, as property owners and horse trainers are concerned about the consequences of potential zoning violations associated with the board of more than three horses or with offering any riding lessons,” according to the staff reports.

Before last week’s zoning ordinance hearing, Karanik said zoning regulations go “against one group of children that don’t always fit into the soccer group or the basketball group.

“Every other sport, you’re allowed to do at your home,” said Karanik.