County trots out ban on horseback surfing

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A tour on horseback takes riders through the waters on the north side of the Palma Sola Causeway. Islander File Photo: Kathy Prucnell

“We don’t have a problem with regulation, but, of course, we don’t want the horses banned.”

Carmen Hanson, who owns Cponies, a horseback-riding business that operates tours in Palma Sola Bay on the north side of Manatee Avenue, said blaming the bay’s environmental problems on horses is misguided.

Manatee County commissioners voted unanimously Nov. 7 to direct their attorney and staff to research and report about options to regulate horseback riding in sensitive waters.

In supporting the directive, commissioners pointed to seagrass loss and recent no-swim advisories in the bay.

In business for eight years, Hanson disputes that horses are responsible for the fecal matter in the water or that their presence leads to the advisories.

She said the horses aren’t treading on the seagrass beds, where it’s “soft and mucky.”

In addition, she and her 10 employees collect and remove any feces, place it in a muck bucket and dispose of it at their Myakka City farm.

Cponies offers horseback tours, allowing guests to ride on Gypsy horses in the water.

“I’ve done research for the past five years and every time there’s been a no-swim advisory, there’s been sewage-line breaks and spills from sewers,” Hanson said, adding she’s in the process of compiling the data and a graph for public review.

With regulation, Manatee County would follow Pinellas County, which, in October, approved a measure prohibiting horseback riding, walking and training in Tampa Bay, as well as seagrass damages in the county’s preserves.

“They can do it, why can’t we do it?” asked Commissioner Betsy Benac during the Nov. 7 meeting.

Benac suggested county staff reach out to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Commissioner Vanessa Baugh agreed: “I think it’s very important to do this because grasses are being trampled on.”

Seagrass helps with the health of the bay and water clarity and feeds the manatees, Baugh said.

Baugh blamed the horseback riding for the seagrass being “almost gone.”

The Florida Department of Health issued no-swim advisories for exceeding EPA guidelines for fecal matter in the bay in July, August and October. The advisories were lifted about a week after testing showed a return to safe swimming standards.

Baugh said, “It’s just a mess,” but acknowledged the DOH’s testing can’t tease out whether it’s due to human or animal waste.

Commissioner Priscilla Trace said there is no proof the problems are caused by the horses.

Fecal matter can spill into the bay through sewer-line breaks, leaching septic systems, lift station failures and stormwater runoff.

The most recent reported sewage spill at Palma Sola Bay was Aug. 19, when 180,000 gallons of treated wastewater spilled into a storm drain on 59th Street West that flows south to Palma Sola Bay, according to Manatee County Utilities spokeswoman Amy Pilson. An unknown portion of the spill eventually made its way to the bay.

Other reported spills occurred December 2017-February 2018, when contractors hit sewer lines and more than 6 million gallons of raw sewage spewed through the adjacent lands, some that emptied in the bay.

Commissioner Carol Whitmore agreed the health of Palma Sola Bay and the beach closings are problems, but noted that people historically have brought horses to recreate in the bay. People also are allowed to bring dogs to the causeway.

Whitmore brought the Palma Sola Bay health issue to the Manatee County Council of Governments in July, where Bradenton Councilman Gene Gallo said the city looked into the possible regulation of horses, but the Florida Department of Transportation nixed the idea with a 2012 letter stating horses are permissible in DOT rights of way as a mode of transportation.

At the Nov. 7 meeting, county attorney Mitchell Palmer dismissed the DOT’s opinion, saying, “There’s little doubt in my mind” the county can regulate for water quality.

15 thoughts on “County trots out ban on horseback surfing

  1. Nicole

    I pray that the county does more research into this. Look at the Chincoteague ponies. This is a fun, safe activity for both horses and humans that provides a lot of relaxation, which I’m sure both enjoy.

  2. agatha vournas mantanes

    They better not touch this family business. Is it that some developers have their eye on the property the family owns?? manatee dumps sewage in the gulf, and they blame a family business. This will not go well for anyone running in 2010.

  3. Liz arnold

    The fact actually is that there is there is more sea grass than a few years ago…. these horses have been featured in TV shows taking about ANNA Maria and the beaches and all the special attractions. To put this small local business out of business based on a false claim is more than upsetting!

  4. Nancy

    I’ve ridden at that beach with Cponies several times since I discovered it. It is my favorite thing to do when we come down for our yearly trip to Florida! It’s the highlight of my trip, by far! They have ALWAYS cleaned up after the horses. They take very good care of their horses, and it is very well managed, including weight restrictions. It is ridiculous to complain of “horse poop” in the water. What about all the other critters in the water that poop there? Seriously, that’s how God created nature. It’s a natural thing! Please focus more on cleaning up the plastics and chemicals.

  5. Holly Harrison

    So sad to hear of this- This company is rescuing these horses and providing a life for them free of cruelty and harm. I was a customer when visiting Florida from Ohio. They are very conscious of the environment and even had a full disclosure given to customers on how they run things (which includes a run down on the clean up and care of the area and the horses) – The owner and the employees are Animal Lovers here, not cruel planet destroyers. They DO clean up after the horses.

  6. Sabrina

    For Gods sake leave these people and their horses alone. A lot of these public beaches do not have restrooms, where you suppose Jim Bob defacates after about 3 hot dogs and a 6 pack of beer?! That’s right, when he’s swimming alone, that’s when you know! Lest we also overlook the fact the county dumps so much human waste in that water, boat waste…ie gas and oil leaks and such….as for the sea grass, what about all the people traffic in that water?! Boat traffic?! The same pollution that kills aquatic sea life may be affecting that also, let that sink in. I’m going to tell y’all right now, I’d much rather my children or myself swim next to a horse turd than any other disgusting crap in that water, any day!

  7. Darlene Williams

    My daughter works for one of the companies that provides beach rides. They have someone walking behind the horses with a wheel barrel picking up any droppings. The county needs to pay more attention to the chemicals and raw sewage that is being dumped. Beach horse rides add something beautiful and unique to our area. Why would you want to ban it?

  8. Connie Smith

    There is weight restrictions . Theses. horses are treated like royalty. No cruelty here what so ever! Get your facts straight before you just assume.

  9. Carmen

    More money should be spent on the real problems, leaking sewage, why not make the north side a real horse and dog beach?

  10. PHIL

    there should be a restriction on the sensibility of comments, Cindy can carry the waste bags behind the horses and Maria can bring the scale and weight shame people…

  11. Cindy Madigan

    I have sat at this beach & fecal matter is all over the beach & in the water. There is no way that they are cleaning up after the horses. Why can’t they have something attached to the horse so it won’t fall all over. It’s a shame that that that whole area is not being used because of the matter in & out of the water.

    1. Rory

      Actually we clean behind every horse that makes a drop! Someone carries a poop wagon right behind us! Never have we left the beach in a bad condition, even in pouring rain we make sure to pick up after ourselves and other beach goers.

  12. Maria Wright

    There should be a weight restriction for these horses. Totally cruel to have overweight riders nearly breaking the horses backs

    1. Rory

      Horses can carry a lot of weight, and trust me for a lot of our horses we do have weight guidelines. Some of these horses are rescues we want to ensure they are safe along with our riders.

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