Horses and people and beaches:  oh my!

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
April 20, 2017 3:14 p.m.


Horseback riding on island beaches has a long tradition and many loyal supporters.  But increasingly Fernandina Beach City Commissioners (FBCC) are fielding complaints from beachgoers who object to what the horses leave behind.  While the tourism industry promotes scenes like this:

 What many beachgoers are finding to their consternation is this:


At the urging of City Commissioner Roy Smith, the FBCC discussed what seems to be another chapter in the never-ending saga of animal control on city beaches.  Smith told his fellow commissioners, “We’ve got to stop talking about this problem and fix it.”  He suggested that the city require that each horse on city beaches wear a “diaper bag” to collect its waste, because the current situation makes city beaches “look terrible.”

Six speakers addressed the commissioners, three of whom represented licensed commercial operators:  Amelia Island Horseback Riding and Happy Trails. They said that that they understood the complaints, but that their companies provide a positive service and are responsible for many satisfied customers who support other local businesses during their stays on the island.  They expressed a willingness to work with the city in finding a solution to the problem, which they claimed is caused by private riders who do not have permits and who ignore the rules that commercial companies follow.

Two other speakers—one a private rider and the other a real estate professional—said that the ability to ride horses on the beach draws people to visit and sometimes move to the island.  They pooh-poohed any health or environmental hazard.  Dr. Carly Miller, who grew up with horses, said that horse manure is basically grass and that it resembles grass clippings that have been left to compost.  Carol Woodmansee claimed that there is more environmental damage done by children building sandcastles than by horses.

Chris Bordnick who had no horse in the race, merely urged commissioners to drop the topic and focus on more important business.  He said that if the commissioners were truly concerned about environmental impacts, they should look at the problems caused by oil and transmission fluid at the beach parking area at the end of Sadler Road.

Fernandina Beach Commissioner Roy Smith

Commissioners seemed sympathetic to the horseback riding businesses.  They asked city staff to set up a workshop so that riders and businesses could work with the city on crafting language to modify the existing ordinance to resolve problems.  The commissioners seemed inclined to allow commercial businesses to continue under certain circumstances, but possibly ban private riders from city beaches.  Private riders may still ride at state park beaches on the south end of the island.

Commissioners balked at suggestions to require police monitoring of the beaches to enforce the ordinance, agreeing that there are better uses for police efforts throughout the city.  However, they allowed that periodic plain-clothes checks might be warranted.  Commissioners also wanted violations to be accompanied by citations and fines.

Commissioner Roy Smith was adamant that the matter come back to the commission for action as soon as possible, which will probably be June.  He also asked that at the same time the commission address enforcing dog leash laws on the beach.

Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.

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12 Responses to Horses and people and beaches:  oh my!

  1. tony crawford says:

    This is getting to be comical.
    Year after year we seem to go through the same crap, ( pun intended ) This stuff is not rocket science.
    #1 Horse crap at the end of the day is still horse crap. It may be healthy enough to feed to your kids, but the perception of most adults is that it is still horse crap.
    #2 My guess is the majority of us tax payers don’t really want the horses to be eliminated from our beaches, I know I don’t
    #3 It is good for local business as well as our tourist trade. If a family comes to the beach and they see horse crap on the beach, they don’t really think of it as clean, healthy and safe. Most, think of it as, well,— horse crap. This is not a good selling point.
    #4What ever ordnance is put into effect has to be ENFORCEABLE.
    #5 Many local horse business do clean up, but not all.
    #6 Whatever solution is reached will without doubt not be agreeable to all. This is where the word compromise comes in
    #7 Commissioner Smith suggestion of bags to catch the crap is a simple and reasonable solution. It will not be what the horse owners want, but it would allow anyone with a horse to use or beaches and it would fix the problem ONCE AND FOR ALL, and it would be an easily enforceable ordnance.
    #8 Placing a plain cloth cop to try to be there and watch the horses to see if they are crapping is actually comical. Think about it, is he going to follow the horse or just hope the horse goes at the spot he is standing? The Police really have better things to do.
    *9 The way to enforce this bag ordnance is to make spot checks and just observe if a rider has a bag on their horse. It is a quick visual check. If they don’t, they issue them a ticket with a fine. Once the word gets out that the City and the Police are serious about this, it is my guess they would start to comply rather than get a ticket and pay a fine. Think about the reason we stop at stop signs or drive the speed limit. We do it because we don’t want to take a chance on being caught and getting a ticket. We are kind of trained that way from the day we get our license.
    #10 Remember any solution or compromise will not satisfy all parties concerned. It is my hope that this gets fixed, it is enforceable, and anyone who wants to ride on our beaches can. Please lets not just kick the can down the roan once again.

  2. Betsie Huben says:

    If the fine folks up in New York City can figure out how to allow carriage rides in Central Park, it seems reasonable to think we can figure out a way to continue to have horseback riding on our beaches. Both activities have been around for a very very long time. While I do agree that enforcement is key, our local police department has plenty to do without adding to their schedule. Tourism brings in multiple millions of dollars to our community. Time for the TDS to pony up some funds and get a beach patrol going.

  3. Viv Gotkin says:

    We live beachside and would like to also note that the amount of dog poop left behind continues to increase. My suggestion would be to dispense plastic poop bags at every beach access, along with an advisory that getting caught leaving your animal’s excrement on the beach will result in a $1000 fine. I think that might cut some of this crap.

  4. Nancy Dickson says:

    Like others, I hope this can be resolved. Beach goers and horses interact over more than just what they leave behind. I have been terrorized (not a word I use lightly) by groups of riders, galloping side by side down the beach (just like in the pictures), spread out from surf to dune. This leaves NO PLACE for a walker to avoid getting run down. So far, at least one rider has noticed that there was a pedestrian in their path and turned aside, but until they do, it’s pretty scary. Definitely not in the same league as a 10 pound dog running free under voice control.
    That last word, control, is key. Anyone who takes an animal (or child) to the beach should take responsibility for their actions and clean up after them. Unfortunately for many of us, the words “civic duty” have an old fashioned, musty aroma, but according to John D Rockefeller, Jr “every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty.”

  5. Marlene M Chapman says:

    This had to be one of the most ridiculous discussions I’ve heard at a commission meeting to date! If there are rules, enforce them. If there aren’t rules or if those rules are confusing, get it together and make them clear! Whatever needs to be done, do it! To discuss horse poo for over a half and hour is absurd!

  6. Eric Bartelt says:

    It’s inevitable that conflicts will arise between beach goers and horseback riders, given the increase in tourism and increase in the number of riding companies. A couple of years ago, horse manure on the beach wasn’t a big problem. There was one company doing occasional rides. Now there are three or four companies doing rides everyday, multiple times per day. Some scoop their manure, some do it half-heartedly, some don’t do it at all. Not 24 hrs. after this topic was discussed at the City Commission meeting, a large pile of manure near beach access 37 was left unscooped. The multiple horse tracks suggest that it was one of the companies that left it.

    When a riding company’s business model requires use of public property for success, it should be no surprise when there is pushback from other users of the same public property – the walkers, bikers, runners, surfers, readers, sand castlers, tanners, swimmers, fishers and shellers, of which there are many more than there are of horseback riders. Other users of the beach are just as important to our tourism economy as horseback riding. Maybe even more so. They stay in the hotels, eat in the restaurants and provide for employment, just as horseback riders do. There’s just a lot more of them.

    It’s not just horse manure that is the problem. With multiple riding trips per day now, the areas of the beach churned up with horse hoof divots is much greater. The riders always try to ride on the wet sand, which is exactly where the walkers, bikers, and runners go. With a receding tide, the field of divots left by the horses grows with each subsequent group following the waterline, until all of the walkable area of the beach is covered. Horse groups don’t ride single file. A group of six horses takes up about 15 – 20 feet of beach. Trips are two-way, so that’s 30 – 40 feet. Then the next group, following the receding tide, takes up another 30 – 40 feet. What’s left for the other beach goers is no smooth sand beach to walk on, bike on, or run on. It’s now rare for there to be a time on this section of the beach when the negative impacts of horses are not evident.

  7. Mary Pat Campbell says:

    Last Sunday a woman we did not recognize walked onto the beach from our private neighborhood access with two large dogs. She brought the dogs down the beach a bit and unleashed them both. One pooped at her side and she profusely praised the dog and picked up the poop. Meanwhile the other dog had run straight into the water and pooped. That dog also received profuse praise. The owner then leashed the dogs and left the beach. My husband told her he was not too crazy about swimming that day. He told her to keep the dogs leashed. We have not seen her again so my guess is that she was visiting. All pet owners should be considerate of all beach goers, regardless of pet size.

  8. tony crawford says:

    Eric, all of what you said may very well be true. All of what they say about the safety with respect to environmental and health issues concerning the horse dropping may also very well be true. The fact is, at the end of the day a compromise has to be reached by our City to try to give everyone a slice of the pie and not the whole pie to one group. A good solution will never please everyone. I am hoping the City puts in an ordnance requiring drop bags. I am hoping the Police will do spot checks and give tickets with heavy fines to those who don’t use them. Will that please the horse riders? NO, bit they will be able to ride on the beach. Will that please those who are worried about hoof prints? NO, but it will keep them and the tourists from stepping in horse crap. Point is there is no way to please everyone. The word compromise is a word that has all been erased from our vocabulary. Lets hope the City Commission takes action and solves this problem once and for all.

  9. teri springer says:

    I find myself wondering how the hoof prints are any more of an issue that the excavations I see every time I go to the beach…often above the high tide mark, meaning, either someone has to fill them in (and I came across one hole that was about 6′ across and a good 4.5-5′ deep) or wait for mother nature to do it. OTOH, the horse tracks, being below the high tide line, get washed away twice a day. And, frankly, I’m not too worried about stepping in a hoof print.

    So, sorry, the tracks aren’t the issue. It’s the inconsiderate riders who don’t clean up after their horses. I have seen groups leave piles (and yes, I asked if they were going to clean them up and was told it’s all natural and mind my own business….hmmm….my taxes pay for that beach so it’s my business)….I don’t care if it’s “all natural.” It doesn’t belong on the beach. At least it’s not the health hazard the dog crap is…..

  10. Peggy Bulger says:

    The horse issue is real . . . and the number of horses on the beach has increased dramatically in the past few years. Amelia Island will NOT get tourists to love playing in the waves with a pile of horse poop gently being pulled into the Atlantic. We need rules for the entire island if we want to have a safe and inviting environment for all. I agree with Tony that this will require a firm, but reasonable, policy that would be agreed to by the City, the County, the Ritz and Omni.

  11. Mel Porter says:

    I see one riding outfit in particular do an amazing job of picking up after thier horses
    (They wear orange shirts). I would like us to spend energy on enforcing the lease law and dog poop pick up. The dog issue is a much bigger safety and cleanliness issue.

  12. tony crawford says:

    M Porter, How would you suggest those laws are enforced ?

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