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What makes a horse property a horse property?

Andrew and I have been specializing in helping folks buy and sell horse properties in the Foothills, along the Front Range and throughout Metro Denver for more than 15 years.  Because it is a specialty, and we target marketing to people around the globe, we often come across individuals who are new to the area, or are considering relocating here, and they are looking for a horse property.  Either they currently have horses and are looking to bring them with them, or they desire to begin a horsey chapter of their lives, maybe one they have only dreamed of, and they will acquire the animals after they secure the right property.

We learned years ago in the real estate business, that just because a property is advertised as “horse property”, that might not really be true.  Sometimes it is simply a lack of experience and expertise on a part of the agent, or maybe the current owner has horses and has requested that the agent advertise it as such.  At times an agent may assume that since a horse (or more) live on the property at present, the property is a “horse” property by common sense definition.  Ignorance is no excuse, as they say, and even if a horse lives on a property today, the new owner of tomorrow may have no legal right to add one of their own after the transaction is completed.

Although not meant to be the exhaustive treatise on what makes a horse property a horse property, over the following few paragraphs we will sort through some helpful considerations to investigate.  I am certain a room full of horse people could come up with a couple of more, but let’s look at these qualifiers:

  • Zoning guidelines
  • Legal water
  • Definition of Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions (CC&Rs)
  • Common Interest Community (HOA) rules
  • The Eye Test

Zoning and any local municipality categories are a first step in your process.  Each county and city or township groups properties into categories of use.  A quick check with the zoning office, or usually online at a handy website, will not only help you determine what a certain property is designated – agricultural, residential, PD (planned development), mixed use, commercial, etc., but it will also provide you with zoning category definitions which will tell you not only if horses are allowed, but how many are permitted.  To be honest, usually if horses are okay, the number of animals allowed is much higher than you would want to put there.

Last month’s article discussed legal water issues in more detail and if you missed it, and cannot find a copy of the December Serenity lying about, you can find that article here http://mtnhomes4horses.com/domestic-well-household-use-well/. In quick summary, all the water in the State of Colorado belongs to the People of Colorado, not the property owner.  Even before official statehood in 1876, the right of use and to divert water in Colorado has been a big deal.  A property owner may enjoy rights of use of water from a well, a reservoir, or stream for their horses.  However, there may be a well, a reservoir and a stream on a property where it is absolutely illegal to use any of that water for horses.  So, check on the source of water available and double check on it’s permitted uses.  A water attorney is your most reliable resource, but an experienced real estate agent with education in sources of water can provide you with capable guidance as well.

At times, restrictions have been placed upon a property or a neighbor that restricts the allowed uses on the property moving forward.  Some of these restrictions, quite frankly, are inappropriate, outdated, and even offensive.  But if not illegal, they can limit your uses of a property.  A visit to the county offices again can be illustrative, but your real estate agent can work with local title companies to pull what is referred to as CC&’Rs – Definition of Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions on a property.  A careful reading of these documents is an absolute requirement for anyone purchasing any property, but paramount for those thinking of bringing their horses.

Beyond CC&R’s, any property located within a Common Interest Community (HOA) will have rules that limit and restrict an owner’s use and discretion over their private property.  Some examples are types of animals, numbers of animals, types of fences, types of secondary structures (barns and pasture shelters), to name a few.  HOA guidelines supersede county zoning and local guidelines.  Even in cases where the HOA is considered “voluntary” and you are told you can “do what you want” is unwise to assume a dormant neighborhood organization will remain that way after you complete a purchase.  A best practice is to submit any horse related improvements to the architectural review committee (or it’s equivalent) during your Due Diligence period to make certain you will be allowed to follow through on your plans after Closing.

Finally, after considering Zoning Guidelines and municipal categories, Legal water, Definition of Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions (CC&Rs), and Common Interest Community (HOA) rules, a person with the best interests of their horse in mind must evaluate a property based upon what I call the “eye test”.  In other words, is it a property where a horse will enjoy a safe and happy life?

Eye tests considerations are aspects like sun exposure, grazing and exercise opportunity, topography and slope, ease of access for your truck and trailer, and evacuation options should a wildfire develop in the area.  Sun exposure makes a huge difference in our area.  Whether the property is south facing or north facing makes a huge difference in the speed of snowmelt, retention of icy build ups and opportunity to safely ride or even load your horse in the winter months.

Think about the topography and make up of the land.  Is there meadow for grazing?  Is the slope of the ground gentle enough?  What about spacing of rocks and trees?  Unfortunately, we have seen instances where a property would be perfectly suited as a goat sanctuary, but not for a happy horse.  Some acreages with limited true pasture will benefit from a track system for exercise and replacement “grazing” (See my June 2018 article http://mtnhomes4horses.com/track-system/).

For those of us living with horses in the Foothills for longer periods, we have experienced the scare of wildfires and calls for evacuation.  Look at a property through the lense of how easy it will be to load them up and get them away to safety.  Long narrow access roads might be adventurous at a leisurely pace in your four-wheel drive.  But in times of crisis, you want easy access for truck and trailer with ideally more than one route in and out of the neighborhood.  It is not fun to think about but planning your route today could save heartache at some point in the future.

As mentioned previously, there are likely more considerations to be thought of when evaluating a property for horses, but hopefully this piece will help you start your checklist.  Maybe having horses at home is a dream of every horse person.  A thoughtful process at the outset will help you also fulfill your horses dream of where they would dream to live as well.

Heather McWilliams © 2019

Domestic and Household-Use Well Permits

Many horse owners in our Foothills communities, along the Front Range, and even throughout the State of Colorado give no thought about the legality of the source of water for their horses.  Whether it be a “frost free” spigot, a garden hose running from the house, or plumbed automatic waterers, owners turn on the tap and let the water flow.

However, Colorado Water Commissioner Tim Buckley explains that it is important for owners to understand the legal issues relating to sources of water and its availability for their horses and/or livestock.

According to Buckley, all waters in the state of Colorado are owned by the people of Colorado. The right to use the water or a “water right” is the right to divert or use the water under the prior appropriation system as long as the water is put to a beneficial use. The “State” or Departments of the State such as Division of Parks and Wildlife and others own water rights but are not any different than a private water right holder. The function of the Department of Water Resources is to administer these rights.

Even rain water collected in buckets and barrels; or puddles in the pasture, is not necessarily available for a landowner’s use.   Matter of fact, unless a property owner has specific legal rights to use rain water, surface water (puddles, ponds or streams), or even their well water for a specific purpose, they are compelled to leave the water where it is.

If you have ever purchased a property served by a well, hopefully your REALTOR discussed the category of that well and it’s legal uses.  Common categories are Household, Domestic, and Livestock.   The names of these categories confuse most everyone.  After all, wouldn’t Domestic mean indoors?

As a rule of thumb, with multiple noted exceptions, Household is for use only inside the house.  No exterior watering of plants, animals or even washing your car in the driveway.  If you fill up Fido’s bowl, do it from the kitchen sink.  In certain cases a Household well could be augmented (a water court process) to allow for a limited watering of a determined number of horses, or an outside garden or hot tub – but the parameters of use will be very clearly defined and limited.

Domestic wells are more likely to allow for the watering of an outdoor animal like a horse, or a donkey or even maybe a goat.  However, “Domestic” does not indicate a blanket permission either.  It is important to read the well permit directly, looking for keywords or phrases.  Never assume that a Domestic well category gives you the freedom you are looking for without verification.  For example, most Domestic wells would not allow for you to board outside horses on your property for profit.  In the case of boarding businesses, a Commercial well status is a common requirement.

Another category we run across on older, farm or ranch use properties can be “Livestock”.  This category gives broader permissions and allows a wider variety of uses.  Cows, horses, goats, etc., can be allowed to be watered from these types of wells.  That said, read the permit itself for limitations or further definition.

What about your pond or the creek that runs seasonally or even year round through the back forty?  The answer may surprise or even dismay you.  Without an adjudicated (again – water court process) water right to use the water out of that pond or creek or ditch, you must not consider it a legal source for watering your horse.  To my knowledge the State of Colorado does not currently require you to keep your animal away with a fence or other barrier, but a stern admonition to your animal along the lines of “don’t drink that water” is in order and that water cannot function as the animal’s primary water source.

In some recent years our Foothills communities have enjoyed excellent precipitation totals through wet springs and frequent summer showers.  You have noticed both greener grass into August and September, along with uncommon rain showers ruining your picnic well into July.  Not only are we grateful for this wonderful moisture and the late grazing our animals enjoy in the pastures, but the Colorado Division of Water sometimes declares a “Free River” status for water right enforcement.  In layman’s terms, “Free River” conditions lead to a lighter enforcement of legal water use.  If you are curious, we are NOT presently enjoying “Free River” conditions.

How do you find out if your current source of water legally allows you to water your horse?  There are several options available to you.  Hopefully you received a copy of your well permit, during the Due Diligence period, when you purchased your property (or when the well was drilled if you bought vacant land).  Pull it out of the file and read it over, looking for the “type” description.  A call to the Colorado Division of Water Ground Water information desk (303) 866-3587 is possibly the simplest solution.  Leave your address and usually a return call within 24 hours gives you your well permit number and it’s prescribed use.  Many don’t know that walk-ins are welcome M-F from 9-4 at the Colorado Division of Water office at 1313 Sherman St #821 in Denver.  The folks there are super helpful and are happy to give you the information you need.

What if you learn that Trigger can’t legally drink the water from your well?  Commissioner Buckley offered more than one solution for that situation as well.  An expensive alternative would be to add a water right to your well through a Water Court process.  This involves a water attorney and a willing Seller but is doable with money, patience and determination.  A quicker and more inexpensive alternative would be to install a cistern at your property and to purchase potable water from a number of local vendors.  Keeping a record of your purchase history and the number of horses you are watering keeps you out of trouble.

Looking to buy a horse property and wanting to conduct the proper due diligence to ensure that a legal water source for your horse is included?  Seek out an experienced REALTOR who specializes in horse properties, farms and ranches.  They can guide you through the process.  I also recommend hiring a water attorney to conduct a title search to verify any adjudicated water rights, especially in cases where more than a well permit is being transferred.  It may cost you several hundred dollars up front, but the peace of mind it brings can easily justify the investment.

Want to learn more?  Visit the Division’s website at http://water.state.co.us.  Call Commissioner Buckley’s office (303) 501-4298 or email him at [email protected] You want to be informed.  Legal water use is a big deal for residents of Colorado.  Heather McWilliams © 2018.

You can lead a horse to water, but is he allowed to drink it?!

Many residents of our Foothills communities, the Denver Region, and even the entire State of Colorado give no thought to the source of water for their horses.  Whether it be a “frost free” spigot, a garden hose running from the house, or plumbed automatic waterers, owners turn on the tap and let the water flow.

However, at a recent Intermountain Horse Association meeting, Colorado Water Commissioner Tim Buckley explained that it is important for owners to understand the legal issues relating to sources of water and its availability for their horses and/or livestock.

According to Buckley, all waters in the state of Colorado are owned by the people of Colorado. The right to use the water or a “water right” is the right to divert or use the water under the prior appropriation system as long as the water is put to a beneficial use. The “State” or departments such as division of Parks and Wildlife and others own water rights but are not any different than a private water right holder. The function of the Department of Water Resources is to administer these rights.

Even rain water collected in buckets, barrels, or puddles in the pasture, is not necessarily available for a landowners use.   Matter of fact, unless a property owner has specific legal rights to use rain water, ground water, or even their well water for a specific purpose, they are compelled to leave the water where it is.

If you have ever purchased a property served by a well, hopefully your REALTOR discussed the category of that well.  Common categories are Household, Domestic, and maybe Livestock.   These categories confuse most everyone.  After all, wouldn’t Domestic mean indoors?

As a rule of thumb, with multiple noted exceptions, Household is for use only inside the house.  No exterior watering of plants, animals or even washing your car in the driveway.  If you fill up Fido’s bowl, do it from the kitchen sink.  In certain cases a Household well could be augmented (a water court process) to allow for a limited watering of a horse or two – but the parameters of use will be very well defined.

Domestic wells are more likely to allow for the watering of an outdoor pet like a horse, or a donkey or even maybe a goat.  However, “Domestic” does not indicate a blanket permission either.  It is important to read the well permit directly, looking for keywords or phrases.  Never assume that a Domestic well category gives you the freedom you are looking for without verification.  For example, most Domestic wells would not allow for you to board outside horses on your property.

Another category we run across on older, farm or ranch use properties can be “Livestock”.  This category gives broader permissions and allows a wider variety of uses.  Cows, horses, goats, etc., can be allowed to be watered from these types of wells.  That said, read the permit itself for limitations or further definition.

What about your pond or the creek that runs seasonally or even year round through the back forty?  The answer may surprise or even dismay you.  Without an adjudicated (again – water court process) water right to use the water out of that pond or creek or ditch, you must not consider it a legal source for watering your horse.  The good news is that the State of Colorado does not currently require you to keep your animal away with a fence or other barrier, but a stern admonition to your animal along the lines of “don’t drink that water” is in order.

In recent years our Foothills communities have enjoyed excellent precipitation totals through wet springs and frequent summer showers.  You have noticed both greener grass into August and September, along with uncommon rain showers ruining your picnic well into July.  Not only are we grateful for this wonderful moisture and the late grazing our animals enjoy in the pastures, but the Colorado Division of Water sometimes declares a “Free River” status for water right enforcement.  In layman’s terms, “Free River” conditions lead to a lighter enforcement of legal water use.

How do you find out if your current source of water legally allows you to water your horse?  There are several options available to you.  Hopefully you received a copy of your well permit when you purchased your property (or when the well was drilled if you bought vacant land).  Pull it out of the file and read it over, looking for the “type” description.  A call to the Colorado Division of Water Ground Water information desk (303) 866-3587 is possibly the simplest solution.  Leave your address and usually a return call within 24 hours gives you your well permit number and it’s prescribed use.  Many don’t know that walk in’s are welcome M-F from 9-4 at the Colorado Division of Water office at 1313 Sherman St #821 in Denver.  The folks there are super helpful and are happy to give you the information you need.

What if you learn that Trigger can’t legally drink the water from your well?  Commissioner Buckley offered more than one solution for that situation as well.  An expensive alternative would be to add a water right to your well through a Water Court process.  This involves a water attorney and a willing Seller, but is doable with patience and determination.  A quicker and more cost effective alternative would be to install a cistern at your home and to purchase potable water from a number of local vendors.  Keeping a record of your purchase history and the number of horses you are watering keeps you out of trouble.

Looking to buy a horse property and wanting to conduct the proper due diligence to ensure that a legal water source for your horse is included?  Seek out an experienced REALTOR who specializes in horse properties, farms and ranches.  They can guide you through the process.  I also recommend hiring a water attorney to conduct a title search to verify adjudicated water rights, especially in cases where more than a well permit is being transferred.  It may cost you several hundred dollars, but the peace of mind it brings can easily justify the investment.

Want to learn more?  Visit the Division’s website at http://water.state.co.us.  Call Commissioner Buckley’s office (303) 501-4298 or email him at [email protected] You want to be informed.  Legal water use is a big deal for residents of Colorado.  Heather McWilliams © 2015.