Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
September 17, 2014 12:51 p.m.

256056956007_144288560003_3653429_16000_0016.jpg.w560h420While adopting a new budget met with yawns from city residents, not so for the question of horseback riding on city beaches.  During the Regular Meeting of the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) on September 16, 2014, chambers were packed with horseback riders and commercial horse rental operators who voiced concerns over proposed amendments to city code regarding horseback riding.

michelle-obama-manure-happens-shovel-ready-speech-sad-hill-news1The item had been placed on the agenda as First Reading of Ordinance 2014-29, following discussion over concerns raised by residents to city police and aired during previous FBCC meetings.  Currently, horseback riding is allowed on the stretch of city beach between Sadler Road and Peter’s Point Park between the hours of 5 p.m. and sunset and from sunrise to 11 a.m.  from May through October.  From November through April there are no daily time restrictions.  Commercial operators require a special permit for their business, but not for each horse.

The proposed changes require permits and fees for private riders in addition to commercial operators.  Other new requirements would include:

  • Display a permit sticker on a horse trailer;
  • Equip each horse with “a tail bag and/or riders must clean up manure deposited by their horse(s) on the beach;”
  • Riders must respect sunbathers, swimmers and others by maintaining clearance when riding;
  • Permit holders must have documentation of a negative Coggins test for all horses;
  • Children under 16 years of age must wear a helmet that meets standards pursuant to Section 773.06 Florida Statutes;
  • “All permit holders are REQUIRED to call Fernandina Beach Police dispatch … at least four hours in advance of every ride to report their name, permit number, time of ride and exact number of horses that will be riding on the beach.”

Violations would result in permit revocation, possible fines and penalties.

Ten speakers, representing themselves and/or commercial horse rental operations, opposed the increased regulation, citing what they considered an unreasonable and possibly discriminatory requirement to notify Police dispatch in advance of their rides.  They also objected to the tail bag requirement and explained the safety issues associated with dismounting and remounting the horse in order to clean up droppings during a ride on the beach.

Betty Davis
Betty Davis

Betty Davis, a private rider, said that she did not understand how anyone could object to horses on the beach.  She said that the community has always taken pride in this activity and that local resorts and tourism companies have played up the romantic idea of riding a horse on the beach.  She cited the ongoing problem of dog waste left on the beach, which she claimed is not being treated in such a draconian manner.

Commissioner Johnny Miller explained to the audience that the issue had come before the Commission when citizens who live along the stretch of beach that the horses travel had brought forward complaints about horse owners failure to clean up after their animals, potential health hazards of horse droppings, rude or intimidating behavior displayed by some commercial operators.  He said that following those complaints he had researched the matter and learned that horse droppings consist of mainly dried grass and do not present a threat from toxins.  He concluded that the problem is “more of a visual thing.”  He said everyone should be able to enjoy the beach and that the city has one of the last beaches in Florida where people can ride horses.

Commissioners Miller and Gass share a light-hearted moment over Miller's new expertise in horse manure.
Commissioners Miller and Gass share a light-hearted moment over Miller’s new expertise in horse manure.

Dawn Latham, a local equestrienne and lawyer, claimed that the notice requirements being proposed were “discriminatory and unreasonable.”  She asked, “How burdensome can regulations be?  People have a right to use the beach.”  She said that the changes discriminate against horse riders, reminding commissioners that the city does not require fishermen to clean up the shrimp heads and fish guts they leave behind on the beach.

Jim Kane
Jim Caine

Jim Caine, another local attorney, spoke in support of the strengthened requirements.  He said that horseback riders display “an attitude of entitlement,” and that he has no confidence that riders will pick up after their horses.  He asked that the requirement be strengthened requiring riders to “immediately pick up” horse waste.  He asked why, if horseback riding was such a good thing, it was not expanded to all city beaches, as opposed to being limited to the current stretch between Sadler Road and Peter’s Point Park.  He cited past complaints with riders and said that he did not like to be treated like a second-class citizen because he objected to horse droppings on the beach.  He said that for him, the problem centers on waste removal.  “I’m about the poop,” he said.  He also said that while he was the only speaker supporting the measure, he was marshaling others who would speak at the second reading of the ordinance.

pleasecleanupThree commercial operators claimed that they all cleaned up after their riders.  Problems were cited with people from out of state who trailer horses to city beaches and ride without permits, often leaving waste on the beach.  Debbie Manser, a successful commercial operator for 19 years, said that many people visit the island just to ride horses on the beach.  She claimed that horseback riding has brought hundreds of thousands of tourism dollars to the community and that local horseback riding rates high on attractions listed by Trip Advisor.  She advocated better signage to advise riders of clean up requirements.  She also requested a change in the permitted hours of operation.

Stan Potter, operator of Happy Trails, explained his clean up operation and objected to the 4-hour notice requirement proposed.  He said, “It is cumbersome, and I don’t see the benefits.”  He asked that riding times be expanded after Labor Day.

The meeting seemed to get out of control as Mayor Boner allowed speakers to go over time, return to the podium, and rebut other speakers.   Finally, he reminded audience members that they must address remarks to the commission, not other speakers.  Other speakers made the point that there is already a regular police presence on the beach, that perhaps money collected via permits could be used to hire someone to clean up the beach, and that animals on the beach make city beaches more enjoyable and colorful.  Other commercial operators cited harassment by individuals that scares horses and creates a safety problem.  One woman tearfully told commissioners, “This is my livelihood, it’s how I feed my family.”

DSCN3237After close to an hour of public input, commissioners discussed the best way to proceed.  Vice Mayor Pelican suggested tabling the item.  Commissioner Pat Gass enumerated the concerns she had heard:  the city beach exists for everyone to use; the 4-hour notice seems questionable; the operators would like hours for beach use off season expanded; and the clean up issue must be resolved.  She expressed interest in learning about possibly expanding the activity to more city beaches.  Commissioner Charlie Corbett called for a workshop to allow residents and horse riding advocates to work out their differences.  Commissioner Johnny Miller said that the local owners appear to work well together.  Gass, expressing what appeared to be the consensus of the commission, said, “We need a solution that needs to work for everyone.”

After an hour and a quarter of public input and discussion the FBCC decided to place the proposed ordinance on hold and move forward with a public workshop to seek a workable solution to the problem of horse waste on the beach.

Suanne ThammEditor’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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tony crawford
tony crawford (@guest_21717)
8 years ago

Let me start by saying I am 100% for horses on the beach. Horses are nice, sometimes nicer than people. Lets all get to the bottom of this. The issue here was brought up by a few homeowners on the beach. Personally, if I had a home on the beach I would be way too grateful for my abundance than to allow horse crap to interfere with my happiness. So is this issue about the majority or even close to a large percentage of our citizens having a concern? No, the fact is it is about a minority of people who aren’t happy. That in itself should be a consideration of the City prior to opening up this can of worms and the way it has been handled to this point. Those concerned homeowners may however have some very valid points that need to be addressed. I agree with one point they bring up–Horse crap. As far as rude behavior, I am not going to waste my time on how adults should get along. Three sides to every story— the homeowners—the horse owners—and the truth maybe four if we include the horse. The real issue here, at least the one the homeowners are hanging their drop bag on is –simply put—HORSE CRAP. Lets face it, that’s the real issue here. Ok, what does the City propose at the meeting: STICKERS ON TRAILERS–fair enough. Permits for business and even fisherman have long been the norm– horse owners can apply and get one. RIDERS MUST RESPECT BEACH GOERS—I have seen many horses on the beach over many years and never, not once have I seen any horse get anywhere close to some sunbather. Maybe this is some legal language the city has to put in, but seriously it seems like such a silly thing to say. MUST HAVE A NEG COGGINS TEST—This is a test for a disease transmitted by horse fly’s. The virus is only active for a few hours. A Coggins test today doesn’t mean that horse won’t get bit by a sick fly tomorrow. How often does the City think a horse should get tested? Has the city done the research on this? The simple research I have done shows basically a test today means nothing tomorrow. Has there been a problem with trans infection from horses to humans? From what I read this really isn’t an issue with respect to humans. NOTIFY THE POLICE 4 HOURS IN ADVANCE— This is about the dumbest thing I have read in a long time. WHY–what are the police going to do? Are they going to run and check the permits, watch to make sure someone is picking up left behind horse crap, see if the horse owners are jumping over sunbathers? For what purpose does a business or a citizen have to notify the police when they are going for a ride. Does a gun owner notify the police when they go hunting or to a range? Does a surfer or fisherman notify the police before they go to the beach? Does any business notify the police before they open shop? Folks, this is still America, not a police state. EACH OWNER MUST USE A DROP BAG OR CLEAN UP AFTER THE HORSE. Call me stupid, dump and simple—but isn’t that why we are at this point? Some owners AREN’T picking up the horse crap. What is the City going to tell them? To pick up the crap. This is something they knew all along–haven’t done–people complained and that is what this is all about. It’s like a mulligan. The answer is so simple. A drop bag. Are all the horse owners going to like that—no. Will it solve a basic problem –yes. Sorry, but there has got to be compromise here. I also feel the city should allow for the expansion of hours after labor day. Look at the good part of it– there would be far less sunbathers to ride close to. Why wouldn’t the City want to expand the hours? Who’s it hurting as long as the issue of horse crap is solved? The part of this whole thing that I find amazing is that this still, in the end( no pun), is all about horse crap. The city decided to address this issue and what did the commission do last night? Some wanted to table the issue. Some wanted a workshop on this issue. Sad fact is —it is yet again another issue that has been kicked down the road. Are we afraid to make a decision before an election? Why is this being left for the next commission to decide? What is the opinion and where do each and every commissioner stand on this? There are golf issues, waterfront issues, sidewalk issues, post office issues, marina dredging issues, parking issues, shrimp fest issues to be addressed and resolved. There is an old saying that might very well fit here—We can’t figure out ( fill in the blank).”

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_21735)
8 years ago
Reply to  tony crawford

Tony, excellent analysis. A drop bag for every horse, whether in a private or public ride, is the simple solution to the main problem. For less than a hundred dollars the majority of the problems go away.

Johnny Miller
Johnny Miller (@guest_21723)
8 years ago

After a long public discussion on that issue, that is available at… I have only one thing to add only here, it took every fiber of my being not to state….. “Sh#t happens”.

Wayne (@guest_21724)
8 years ago
Reply to  Johnny Miller


tony crawford
tony crawford (@guest_21727)
8 years ago

Johnny— that is why you are on that side of the audience. I would have said something to get myself impeached. And I know you did the research on this _S#$%T

tony crawford
tony crawford (@guest_21738)
8 years ago

Dave, what I can’t seem to understand is why the Commission had to try to table this, than wind up asking for a workshop? Why can’t a decision be reached. Is it election time and no one wants to take a stand on such a simple issue. Everyone up there knows the basic problem, they all know the vast majority of the people don’t have an issue with horses on the beach, and they all know what the simplest, fairest and least expensive solution is—–why can’t they just pass an ordnance. Permit and drop bag—or ticket. This seems so simple yet again we have workshops, ask for police notification ( still one of the dumbest things I have read in a long time ) discussion after discussion, time taken from public meetings and more importantly the big items aren’t addressed. We are starting to make Washington look like a well oiled wheel. I would challenge anyone who reads this to please explain to me where my thinking is wrong, why coggins tests are needed, why police notification is needed and if anyone has any idea how many horses have actually rode and disturbed many sunbathers and why the commission couldn’t make a decision on what appears to be over something as simple as horse &^^*(.

Roy G. Smith
Roy G. Smith (@guest_21743)
8 years ago
Reply to  tony crawford

Tony, you are not wrong. The issue should have been voted on that night.
It was the same kicking the can down the road attitude that has been used many times by the commission. I could not believe a commissioner actually proposed opening up the whole beach to horses. That would simply magnify the problem.

tony crawford
tony crawford (@guest_21758)
8 years ago

Roy, Thank you.— Rule # 1 in politics—If you don’t give an opinion–you can’t be held accountable for one. Especially during an election year

Jack Sheet
Jack Sheet (@guest_21777)
8 years ago

WHOA – I love horses, people, beaches, Steeplechase, Polo, Hunting and a good Cowboy Rodeo but I do not want to dodge horse manure all over the beach in front of my home at Summer Beach – I am not invading anyone’s personal space they are invading mine. Pick up your horse poo or reroute your horses off the beach into the water – sunbathers, fisherman, kids playing, people walking, quiet time reading and enjoying the ocean and along comes the old grey mare with a Poo Scare, come on – you just can’t think that’s acceptable even the horses hate it.

tony crawford
tony crawford (@guest_21786)
8 years ago

Jack, Couldn’t have said it better myself and God know I have tried. Simple answer–a drop bag–would that work for you?

Pam Hart
Pam Hart (@guest_21813)
8 years ago

Good for Johnny Miller for doing some research! I’m all for the horses. I think they are beautiful when riding down the beach. And I for one don’t even like the idea of the drop bag. Most of the time I notice that if the horse starts to go, the rider just eases them towards the water where the waves take care of things. Drop bags. Ugh! It’s simple just watch your step like you do for jelly fish or anything else on the beach. On any given day, I’ve hardly seen horse pop on the beach, this problem is being overblown by a few people and I think most of the citizens would like the horses to be left alone and for the business owners to continue as is. I myself would like to see the areas of the beach where they can ride expanded as I would love them to come past my house!

Peggy Bulger
Peggy Bulger(@peggy-bulger1949gmail-com)
8 years ago
Reply to  Pam Hart

I sure wouldn’t want to be swimming in the water where the rider “eases the horse into the waves”!! This is not a solution.

Jim Caine
Jim Caine (@guest_21837)
8 years ago

I do not leave on the beach. Tony is right. If horse owners would pick up the poop it would all be good. Hearing made it worse. Mayor treated gavel like a rattlesnake that would bite him if he touched it and hearing turned into Spartacus in arena on steroids. Commissioner Miller’s science project with NJ horse manure expert made things 100 times worse. Who cares how harmless or dangerous? Are we seriously considering leaving it on the beach to be washed into the ocean for a visitor to step on? That was effect of his remarks – false hope for riders. By the way, despite the expertise of Mr. NJ – University of Florida says science is much more ambiqous. Cheers to Commissioner Glass, only one who displayed courage and common sense that night. If they will just pick up the poop my sense in no one in neighborhood cares about notice to the police or exotic tests.

tony crawford
tony crawford (@guest_21848)
8 years ago

Jim—- It seems so simple.— If you think of it— a drop bag to a horse is like a toilet to a human—–both keep the floor clean and seems so much more civilized. Thanks Jim

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