Then the Law Says You Need a License
One of the functions of the Maryland Horse Industry Board is to oversee the inspection and licensing of horse riding stables. The purpose of inspecting and licensing is not to be punitive to stable owners; it is intended to ensure that the horses are receiving a certain minimum amount of humane care, that the facility is generally safe for the horse and the consumer (lesson student or boarder), and that, if a public lesson or rental stable, that the tack and equipment meets certain minimum safety standards.
Who is required to have a license?
Of the over 500 riding and boarding stables in the back of The Equiery, less than 400 are licensed, but many more should be.
According to the Title 15 of the Annotated Code of Maryland, anyone who generally operates a stable as a business, with the exemption of racing stables, should be licensed. In other words, you must be licensed if you
- board five or more horses and receive compensation for doing so (this includes self care boarders, field boarders and any horses residing on the property for sales or training), OR
- sell five or more horses a year, OR
- provide lessons on one or more horses, or rent or lease one or more horses
But I went to my county offices and they said I didn’t need any licenses to run a stable!
This is overseen by the Maryland State Department of Agriculture, and your county agencies may be unaware of the requirements.
How much is this going to cost me?
There is a $25 non-refundable inspection fee and a $50 application fee.
So, the Government just gets richer?
No, those funds go directly to underwrite the inspection and licensing program, which helps to ensure humane treatment of horses. As responsible horsemen, we should all support ensuring that horses receive a minimum amount of care.
Is this a one time process?
No. Your license must be renewed each year.
How often are the inspections?
Only once a year, unless there is a legitimate problem, and only during normal business hours.
What qualifies some government drone to come tell me how to run my business?
All stable inspectors have hands-on horse experience and participate in continuing equine education courses.
What do they look for and how picky are they?
For run-ins and stalls, they check that they are clean, dry, well-ventilated but not drafty, neat, orderly, sturdy and in good repair. For stalls, they check to ensure that the stalls are bedded and changed regularly with straw, shavings or other suitable material, are of enough quantity to maintain the horse in a clean dry condition, and are cleaned regularly. In and around the barn, they look to ensure that there is not an excessive accumulation of manure, that flies and rodents are controlled, and that all tools used to clean and maintain are properly stored when not in use. They check to make sure that areas where horses are confined or ridden are free of hazards and that all fences are sturdy and in good repair.
What about the horses?
The inspectors will check to ensure that each horse is provided with adequate food, water and salt, and that they are provided in suitable containers. They will check to ensure that feed is properly stored so as to maintain its quality, and that it is not moldy or otherwise contaminated.
The inspectors will also check to ensure that the stable has some sort of health program for all the horses (including, but not limited to worming, dental and foot care), that basic first aid supplies are maintained in good order, that the barn is operating under the care of one or more licensed veterinarians.
For horses that are used as lesson horses or hack horses, they will ensure that each horse receives the rest and sustenance it needs each working day for the type of activity that it performs.
If horses are left tacked, waiting for the next student or trail rider, they will ensure that the girth is loosened, that the horse is not tied by the bit, and that the horse is protected from inclement weather.
What about the tack and other equipment?
The inspectors will make sure that the tack and equipment are clean and serviceably sound, and cannot be adjusted in anyway to cause physical pain or injury to the horse, and that hoof picks, curry combs brushes and other grooming supplies are readily available, clean and usable.
If wagons or carts are being used, the inspector will check to ensure that the axles are well greased and the brakes are in operating condition.
Are they going to tell me or fine me if they think I have too many horses?
NO! There are NO laws in Maryland regulating the number of horses per acres (some local jurisdictions, however, may have zoning restrictions, but that is not part of the licensing purview). What is important is not the number of horses per acre, but the management practices for horses per acre; if you do have a lot of horses on small acreage (as many lessons stables do), they can offer suggestions for better management practices.
In fact, the application form does not even ask about the number of horses.
What if I fail the inspection?
Few barns actually fail the inspection process. Even if the inspectors note certain areas of concern, this does not mean you will fail. They will simply note it, and provide you with suggestions on how to improve it before your next inspection. Their mission is to help educate and bring stables into compliance, not to be punitive and penalize.
What’s in it for me?
1) Possibly Money!! In order to qualify for or participate in many of the cost-share programs offered through the Department of Agriculture, such as those for erosion control, water troughs, manure containment, etc., you must be licensed. In addition, by being a part of the program, you will be kept abreast of MDA programs that may affect and benefit your operation.
2) Free Consulting! If you are building a facility, the inspectors can provide you with free consulting concerning operation design, etc., and can bring in Cooperative Extension, which can not only help you design your facility so that you can qualify for cost-share but can also help you design it so that you can get the maximum use of your land.
A license helps to demonstrate to potential clients (be they training clients, sales clients, lesson students, etc.) that you have credibility and are not some fly-by-night operation, and that you run a safe facility with well-cared for horses. It is sort of like the horse world version of the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval(R)”. Licensed stables also get the bonus of additional advertising, as they are listed on the website for the Maryland Horse Industry Board.
Lastly, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you are helping to support the industry’s commitment to ensuring minimum care standards for horses.