Virginia is a ‘horse friendly’ Commonwealth, where the horse owner can find ample land and facilities to stable horses throughout the state. This article will focus on the Richmond, VA area and detail county laws for the number of horses allowed on properties and on acreage in various counties in Virginia. The counties selected stretch from the Northern Neck in Chesapeake Bay Country to James City County, where Williamsburg is located.

Each county has different requirements for stabling horses, and some may even limit the number of horses per property or per acre. Though this article attempts to provide a comprehensive overview of county laws in each area, I still encourage home buyers to contact the county directly once they finalize a contract on a property. For the most part, horses are allowed on agriculturally zoned properties. There may be cases in which exceptions are made on residentially zoned properties if they are located close to an agricultural area or are grandfathered in under older laws.

Hanover County

In this Virginia County, one horse is permitted for every one acre of land.

Henrico County

The Henrico County zoning ordinance regulates the keeping of horses in three ways. In most cases the main requirement is that any buildings or yards to enclose and feed the horses must be at least 400 feet from any lot in a residential zoning district and at least 200 feet from any other lot occupied by a dwelling. Henrico County advises horse owners to limit their stables for personal use. The excerpted code reads as follows, “Keeping of not more than three horses and/or ponies for personal enjoyment and not as a business.” In that case, the stable must be at least 400 feet from any dwelling in a Residential zoning district or 200 feet from any other dwelling. Measuring from the dwelling, rather than the property line, allows much greater flexibility in the location of the buildings or yards. In exchange, however, this provision comes with a restriction that no more than one horse or pony is allowed per acre of fenced pasture.

James City County

If the property is zoned A-1 it is general agricultural, and the county allows up to seven horses per acre. If the property is zoned R-8, rural residential, up to seven horses are permitted per acre. Horses are not permitted in R-2 or R-1 zoned areas.

York County

Horses are permitted on properties that are zoned Rural Residential (RR) or Resource Conservation (RC) properties. Property owners must have a minimum of two usable acres, excluding the home or setbacks. If a portion of the property has environmental issues, or other restrictions, then this area cannot be counted as usable acres. The number of horses allowed is one per usable acre. Stables have to be constructed 100 feet form abutting properties and 100 feet from public right-of-ways. The stables must also be 1,000 feet from drinking water reservoirs (exceptions to this are possible if a zoning administrator determines that runoff goes away from the reservoir and public health will not be negatively impacted). In addition, horses cannot be stabled within 100 feet of an active well nor can runoff from the stable, pasture or animal yard flow within 100 feet of an active well.

Isle of Wight

In this county, there must be one acre of land for the personal dwelling and one acre of land per horse for private stables.

Sussex County

Sussex County requires the property parcel to be zoned A-1 General Agricultural (with a 2 acre minimum) in order to stable horses. The county is mostly agricultural. If the agricultural property has been subdivided, check the deed for any restrictions on horses.

Essex County

In this county the agricultural district is zoned A-1 and A-2. If the property is zoned A-1 or A-2 zoning laws apply to keeping of horses or ponies for personal enjoyment. Any building for keeping animals must be 300 feet from any residence not located on the same property or from any lot in a residential district and at least 200 feet from any residential property line. Horses are not permitted in most residential areas.

King George County

Horses are only allowed in agriculturally zoned districts A-1 or A-2. According to King George County zoning, “The keeping of a horse shall require a minimum lot area of two acres [dedicated to pasturing] plus one acre for each additional horse. Horses may not be kept in a subdivision with lots of less than five acres.

Powhatan County

In this county, if a property is agriculturally zoned there is no limit to the number of horses allowed. Generally, these properties are zoned as A-1. There are a few properties zoned RR — Rural Residential. This section of Powhatan County is small in scope and is bordered by the James River in the North East part of the county. RR is agriculturally zoned and the same laws apply to stabling horses as A-1. However, horse owners should call the county and double check the number of horses allowed on parcels in RR areas. Horse stabling is limited in residential areas of Powhatan County. Property owners must have a minimum of 3 acres for one horse in R-2. For each additional horse, another acre is required and the total number of horses is capped at three horses. R-5 properties must have a minimum of 5 acres for one horse, and one additional acre for each additional horse. R-5 properties are 20 acres or less.

Goochland County

In this county any agriculturally zoned property or R-1 zoned properties allow horses. There are two acres required for the first horse and an additional acre is required for each additional horse. In RR zoned properties the parcel must be a minimum of 10 acres to stable horses.

Richmond County

A minimum of five acres is needed for a horse, whether it’s zoned agricultural or R-1 or R-2. Up to three horses are permitted for the first five acres. An additional acre is needed for each additional horse.

There is quite a bit of variation for laws on stabling horses in these Virginia counties. The closer a county is to a town or city, the more restrictions seem to apply, and the less agricultural land there is available.

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