County ordinance regulating horses on roadways draws debate on both sides

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With more and more horse drawn vehicles on county roadways here, the Switzerland County Commissioners recently passed an ordinance regulating the vehicles and attempting to limit the potential damage that may be done by these vehicles.

With a growing Amish community here in the county, some have assumed that the regulations are specifically targeting that group of residents – but the commissioners are quick to point out that the new ordinance involves all horses on county roads.

“This ordinance encompasses everyone who takes a horse or a horse drawn carriage on our roadways,” County Commission president K.C. Banta said. “We are in no way targeting any group in our county, but something needed to be done to protect our roads.”

K.C. Banta said that many horse owners use a very hard shoe on their horses in order to get the proper traction. The hard metal of the shoe – and the spikes that hold the shoe in place – can cause heavy damage to county pavement.

The Commissioners have been open to discussions involving a solution to the problem, and at Monday’s commissioners meeting, several members of the Amish community attended to see if some common ground could be worked out.

“We both gave a little bit,” K.C. Banta said of the meeting. “We explained that the hardness of the metal was tearing up the road, and that other communities had passed ordinances requiring rubber shoes. The people in attendance agreed, but reminded us that those communities were much flatter, and that the horses need something solid under them to get up and down the hills. We agreed with that.”

Of particular concern was the horse’s ability to go down a hilly grade and keep the carriage it was pulling under control. To do that, riders need a harder shoe, so the commissioners relented and agreed to allow riders to use a softer shoe without having to go to a rubber shoe.

Everyone at Monday’s meeting agreed with that compromise.

K.C. Banta said that those in attendance at Monday’s meeting agreed to using the softer metal so it won’t be as damaging to the roadways, and told the commissioners that as shoes are changed on horses, they will replace them with the softer materials.

“The horseshoes are the real problem on the roads,” K.C. Banta said. “It’s not the wheels that are causing the damage, it’s the shoe and the spikes that hold it on.”

Another problem has been the manure left on county roadways.

K.C. Banta said that some riders use special bags or some way of catching the manure so it doesn’t fall onto the roads. The new ordinance will make the use of some sort of catch device mandatory.

“I think everyone agreed that we need to do a better job of keeping that off of our roads,” K.C. Banta said. “People who are driving cars through the county have gotten pretty upset when they have to dodge the poop.”

Another central portion of the ordinance is that it will require anyone who takes a buggy, carriage, or any other type of horse drawn vehicle onto county roads to purchase a license.

The $40 license will be in the form of a metallic tag which will have to be stuck to the buggy. It will not be able to be moved from vehicle to vehicle.

“No one had a problem with that,” K.C. Banta said of Monday’s commissioner’s meeting. “Anybody who wants to take a horse-drawn vehicle on the road is supposed to have a sticker on it.”

The ordinance is now in effect, and the commissioners are giving everyone involved a 60-day grace period to come into compliance. K.C. Banta reminded everyone that the ordinance only covers county roads – and that the county has not authority over state highways.

The ordinance involving the purchase of a license specifies that it must be purchased for any “Horse Drawn Vehicle”, which includes buggy, carriage, dray, or wagon designed or intended to use one or more horses as motive power.

However, the ordinance does not include horse drawn agricultural equipment.

It will impact local residents who take their horses out on pleasure rides during different parts of the year; but doesn’t include people who are riding their horse and not pulling a vehicle.

Under the ordinance concerning horseshoes, the county prohibits any person, “To be an operator of, owner of, or to cause any horse or horse drawn vehicle to be operated in the asphalt, concrete, or other hard surface road or highway of Switzerland County…which has been fitted with horseshoes upon which has been applied a sharp-edged compounded mounted material, or material applied in a dotted fashion or style.”