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PJR-036 Horse Boarding Application and Information

Permit and Resource Management Department Banner 750

Revised 05/07/2009

Identifies the information and materials required for a Horse Boarding Zoning Permit.


Horse boarding is the keeping and training of horses which are not owned by the occupant or owner of a property. Horse boarding includes the giving of private lessons (one trainer/one student at a time). Horse boarding facilities which meet the definition of a “commercial stable” under the Zoning Code (i.e. group lessons, riding academies, shows, clinics, etc.) require a Use Permit. The Zoning Code allows horse boarding facilities only in the following zoning districts: Land Intensive Agriculture (LIA), Land Extensive Agriculture (LEA), Diverse Agriculture (DA), Resources and Rural Development (RRD), Resources and Rural Development/Agriculture Preserve (RRD/WA), and Agriculture and Residential (AR).

On parcels two (2) acres or smaller, the number of horses allowed on a parcel, including horses owned by the occupant and/or horses boarded, is limited to one (1) horse per twenty thousand (20,000) square feet of area (approximately ½ acre) regardless of zoning district.

On parcels exceeding two acres (except the AR district), there is no limitation of the number of horses boarded and/or owned by the occupant or property.

Parcels designated AR are limited to five boarded horses, unless a Use Permit is requested and approved. 


After a complete application is submitted, a project planner is assigned to the project. The project planner reviews the proposal to determine if it conforms to criteria related to parcel size, number of horses, inclusion of riding lessons, use of riding arenas, restroom facilities, setbacks, parking areas and driveway entrances, manure management, and vector control. Additional information and/or a site inspection may be required before the project planner can approve the project. The project planner will approve the zoning permit if all the criteria are met or may deny the zoning permit if criteria cannot be met and/or if the site cannot support the use. The administrative determination may be appealed to the Board of Zoning Adjustments by the applicant or the public within ten (10) calendar days of the written determination by filing a letter of appeal and paying the appropriate appeal fee (see the current Project Review Fee Schedule).

Application Materials

  1. Applications. Completed Zoning Permit application form PJR-001 (PDF), and Indemnification Agreement form PJR-011 (PDF).
  2. Proposal Statement. This should be a letter fully describing the proposed facility’s hours of operation, the maximum number of horses to be boarded, and the maximum number of employees. Discuss changes in noise, traffic and site appearance that will result from the proposal, quantified where possible. Indicate any planned future use beyond the present proposal.

    Describe how the horse boarding facility is constructed to prevent clean water (e.g. rain water) from being contaminated by manure. Roof gutters, downspouts, and drains should be installed to prevent "clean" roof water from being contaminated by mixing with manure. Clean water should be diverted around barns, manure storage areas, and paddocks. Areas of high manure concentrations should be roofed or covered.

    Describe prevention measures that will be implemented to protect any riparian corridors or waterways on the site. Horses must be kept out of streams and streambanks to prevent erosion and direct deposit of manure. Fencing may be required to exclude horses from entering these areas. Other sources of water and shade should be provided to horses.

    Describe pasture rotation and management. Cross fences are recommended to divide pastures to graze in rotation to allow re-growth of grasses. It is recommended that during the growing season, grazing be allowed until grass reaches a height of 3 to 4 inches at which point horses should be moved to allow regrowth to 6 to 8 inches before returning horses to pasture.
  3. Site Plan. An 8 ½" x 11" or larger site plan, drawn to scale. Site plans must include, at a minimum, the information required on the Minimum Standard Site Plan CSS-019.
    Note: The Zoning Code requires water troughs, feed troughs, accessory buildings used for housing and maintaining horses, and other livestock to be located 50 feet from the front property line, 20 feet from any side or rear property line, and 30 feet from any dwelling on an adjacent property. Clearly indicate such buildings and setbacks on the site plan.
  4. Manure management plan and stormwater runoff prevention methods.
    1. Maintenance: Describe the maintenance of paddocks and/or stalls including the schedule and method of manure removal. Clean up of manure piles and soiled bedding should be done on a daily basis in highly populated areas. Include methods to prevent stormwater runoff from carrying manure and other contamination from paddocks and pastures into waterways.
    2. Containment/Storage: Describe the construction of manure storage area(s). Horse manure must be stored on an impervious surface and under cover during rains to prevent leaching or runoff. In general, storage areas should be located at least 100 feet from any creeks, streams, drainage channels, or waterways to maintain water quality.
    3. Pasture Fertilization: If manure is spread on pastures to provide fertilization describe the amount, method of spreading, and times of the year when spreading will occur.
    4. Disposal: Describe how horse manure will be disposed. Horse manure can be hauled off site or composted for soil amendment. Compost piles must be kept moist to control dust and well aerated to control odor. If used to fertilize pasture, application should be done only in late spring or summer months to prevent runoff.
  5. Vector Management Plan. Detail how feed, waste, standing water (water troughs), and other items attractive to vectors (rodents, flies, mosquito's, etc.) will be handled to ensure that vectors are controlled. Feed/grain areas should be covered and swept, droppings should be picked up daily, and manure piles should be routinely turned or tilled into pastures to prevent fly breeding areas. Automatic fly spray devices or strips are also recommended in barn areas. To prevent mosquito infestations, all standing water (such as water troughs) should be stocked with mosquito fish as recommended by the Marin/Sonoma Mosquito & Vector Control District.
  6. Restroom Facilities. Restroom facilities are not required for pasture-only facilities where there are no buildings and where people are on site for less than 2 hours.
    If the facility includes, barns, stables, a single family residence, riding arena or other buildings a restroom facility will be required. An existing residential bathroom may be used if it meets accessibility criteria, including path of travel, door width, size, etc. (refer to the current building code). The use of an existing bathroom is also dependent on the septic system meeting the current standards for the proposed use. Please refer to Permit Sonoma Policies and Procedures, Number 9-4-10, Horse Boarding Facilities & Riding Arenas.
  7. Parking Areas and Driveway Entrance. Parking areas are required for clients. If people boarding horses are allowed to park their trailers on site, a specific area must be designated for that purpose. If parking areas or access to the parking is unpaved, please discuss how dust shall be controlled. An area for loading and unloading of horses shall be provided onsite as no loading or unloading of horses shall take place from horse vans or trailers parked on any public roadway. Provide details of the facility’s driveway entrance which may need to be improved.
  8. Accessibility. Shall meet State accessibility requirements which includes accessibility of parking, path of travel from parking to bathrooms, drinking fountains and other public areas including but not limited to viewing areas grandstands, offices and classrooms.
  9. Agricultural Exempt Structures. Buildings constructed as Agricultural Exempt Structures (Group U Occupancies per Section 312.1 of the California Building Code) cannot be used in the horse boarding operation. These buildings are agricultural buildings as defined in Section 202 of the California Building Code and cannot be used for human habitation or used by the public. (Sonoma County Code Sections 7-7 and 13-25). If the horse boarding proposal includes the use of Agricultural Exempt Structures, the project will be conditioned to require the conversion of the building to a fully permitted building.
  10. Note: Additional permits may be required including, but not limited to, building, septic, and encroachment permits.

Filing Fee

See a current Permit Sonoma Project Review fee schedule. 

Reference Guides

It is recommended by Permit Sonoma Regional Water Quality Control Board, and the Department of Fish and Game that anyone keeping horses use the following guidelines. These guidelines provide important information related to facility design and siting, manure management and stormwater prevention plans, pasture (grazing rotation) management, daily paddock care, and protection techniques for waterways.

  • Appropriate Animal Waste Management Guidelines - developed by the Sonoma-Marin Animal Waste Committee, 1992 
  • Horse Owner's Guide to Water Quality Protection - developed by the Council of Bay Area Resource Conservation District (Available as a separate handout at Permit Sonoma or at the Resource Conservation District Petaluma office).
  • Horse Boarding Facilities & Riding Arenas - Permit Sonoma Policies and Procedures, Number 9-4-10; published June 2, 2006.