By Elaine VonCannon, ABR, SRES, Associate Broker, Notary, Team Leader, Property Manager, Award Winning Agent
Like many Southern states, Virginia is horse friendly, with ample pastureland and stables to win over any horse owner’s heart. For centuries, Virginians have relied upon horses for transportation, war, agricultural labor, breeding, hunting, shows, competitions and even companionship. Virginia is an excellent place to stable horses. With a relatively mild winter and a moderate climate throughout the year, Southeastern Virginia, near Chesapeake Bay country and the coastal region, is especially attractive to many who love horses.
This article contains detailed information about stabling horses in many counties near the coastal regions of Virginia. Some of the less populated counties have more lenient laws regarding the stabling of horses for personal use -- provided there is ample land to properly exercise and feed each horse. The more densely populated counties I mention limit the number of horses per acre. Agriculturally zoned property falls under different regulations than residentially zoned horse properties and for the most part -- will not be addressed in this piece (unless the county only allows horses on agriculturally zoned properties or is mostly agricultural).
Information for each county was obtained through review of ordinances for each county or direct contact with the planning office.
New Kent: This county is mostly rural. The number of horses allowed depends on how the parcel is zoned. If it’s A-1 Agricultural there is no limit to the number of horses. If the property is zoned residential, one horse is permitted for every two acres.
Middlesex: This coastal county near the Chesapeake Bay is partial to livestock. For horses used for non-commercial purposes, the minimum lot size 1 ½ acre per animal unit. In addition, a minimum lot area is required for the residential unit (depending upon the infrastructure in place).
Mathews: This county is horse friendly, especially for owners who want to keep more than two horses. There is no ordinance on the number of horses per acre, though owners will want to provide adequate pasturing for each horse. The stable or barn must be 200 feet off of each property line.
King and Queen: Two horses are allowed on a three-acre piece of land. For each additional acre there may another horse. If horse owners want to expand their keep, then ten acres or larger is required in an agricultural district where more livestock and horses are allowed per acre then the above mentioned.
King William: Buildings, housing, horses or ponies for personal enjoyment must be 200 feet from the perimeter of the development and 200 feet from property lines of residential lots.
Lancaster: There is no limit to horses per acre. No commercial use of horses is permitted on residentially zoned property. Barns are required to be 5 feet from the property line -- this applies to a one story accessory structure.
Gloucester: In this county a minimum of 1.5 acres per horse is required. This will not include the area occupied by the primary or accessory structures, yards, and associated wetlands. All horses must be contained within a fenced area and there shall be no more than 5 boarded horses, exclusive of horses owned by the property owner(s) and no horse shows are permitted.
Norththumberland: Livestock production is important to the economy in this county. Seventy-five acres are the minimum requirement for keeping horses for commercial use. If property is zoned A-1 there is no restriction on number of horses. If the property is zoned R-1 or R-2 the property owner is limited to two horses. If the property owner wants more than two horses, the owner must petition the Board of Supervisors for a conditional use permit.
Surry: This county requires a minimum of 2 acre lots for private horse stables. Be prepared to pay a uniform tax upon farm animals. This tax is figured based on the assessed value of the horse.
Charles City: Most areas of the county are zoned agricultural, though there may be residential uses within these areas. Ten horses equals 20 animal units. There are ten horses allowed per piece of property.
Suffolk: In the city of Suffolk, no horses are permitted to be kept, maintained, or stabled with the RL, RLM, RM, RC or RU Zoning districts.
Chesapeake: The city of Chesapeake zones residential properties in three categories: rural, suburban, and urban. Horses are not permitted in residentially zoned properties. Horses can be stabled in Agricultural 02 districts.
Westmoreland: One horse per acre is allowed on agriculturally zoned properties.
The Commonwealth of Virginia has equestrian laws on the books that relate to liability and horse riding or training activities. Visit http://www.americanequestrian.com/legal/VA.htm for more detailed information on this law.
County zoning laws in all areas are subject to change after 2011 and horse owners are encouraged to contact individual county planning departments to confirm current laws. This information was compiled for home buyers who own horses and are interested in purchasing horse farms, farmettes, estate properties, and property in this region, but want to be clear about county laws governing the number of horses that can be stabled.