Jacob had an active life serving his community and helping children before he retired to Fort Mill at the ripe old age of 35.
That’s not too young for someone in Jacob’s profession. In horse years, he’s almost 100.
For years, Jacob served faithfully as a “schooling horse” at a private riding academy near Marvin, N.C. But as he grew older, his owner became concerned her farm wasn’t the best place for Jacob. He wasn’t as mobile as he used to be, and he requires a special diet after he lost most of his teeth.
“He can’t move very fast, and he has to eat very slowly. Most of his food has to be mushed,” said Carol Land, who has owned Jacob since he was born.
Land worried it wasn’t safe to keep Jacob with her 12 younger, rowdier horses, and decided to send the old Morgan horse to live with a friend at her rural home north of Fort Mill. It’s a quiet area off Old Nation Road (U.S. 21 Business) that still gives Jacob plenty of opportunity to interact with the neighborhood children, for whom he’s become a popular attraction since he arrived in August.
“It helps them learn responsibility. I can even get them to dispose of the manure,” said Marston St. John. “But if they say they can’t lift the shovel, I believe them.”
Jacob’s retirement, however, might be threatened by the area’s zoning rules, which prohibit St. John from keeping livestock on her property. A Thursday hearing by the York County Zoning Board of Appeals will decide whether Jacob will be allowed to remain a neighborhood attraction.
St. John was told a neighbor had made an anonymous complaint against her keeping the horse on her property, but she couldn’t believe anyone would be against having Jacob around. She said her neighbors pitch in to take care of Jacob, coming over while she’s away to feed him a treat of applesauce.
Land was similarly surprised to hear there could be any opposition to Jacob. She said the location allows him to continue being “a contributing member of society,” because he still gives rides to visiting children and thus continues doing the job he enjoyed at her riding school for so many years, a job that makes him “a perfect babysitter.”
“Picture a horse with a halo around his head, and that’s Jacob,” Land said. “I don’t know why anyone would complain about him. He couldn’t be sweeter.”
The problem isn’t that zoning rules won’t let St. John keep a horse in a “residential conservation one district,” said Eddie Moore, interim director of York County’s Planning and Development Services Department. It’s just that lot sizes in the area are too small.
“To keep a horse for non-commercial purposes, you need a lot of at least five acres, and this property is only right at one acre,” Moore said.
St. John and her neighbors have been notified of Thursday’s hearing and will have a chance to ask the board for a variance to the rules.
Once an active horse
For years, Jacob led an active life at Land’s farm. He would pull sleighs when it snowed, rode in several parades, and competed in jumping competitions. He was so gentle with first-time riders, Land even put her 92-year-old grandmother on him for her first ride.
Land had hoped St. John’s place would be a good home for Jacob to enjoy his golden years. It’s not large, less than an acre, but he can’t walk very far anyway, and while he still grazes, his toothless gums just drop the blades of grass back on the ground.
“He’s not the prettiest horse any more,” St. John said. “He has a ‘sway back’ (muscular atrophy) and no teeth, so his tongue just kind of hangs out of his mouth.”
St. John and her 5- and 3-year-old daughters have taken to caring for the horse. She prepares a special watered-down blend of alfalfa, grain, rice bran and multivitamins to feed Jacob three times a day, an expense Land continues to pay for.
St. John and her neighbors were in the process of putting up a fence and paddock to house the animal when they were told about the zoning objection.
She credits the horse with bringing the neighborhood together, and said several neighbors will speak on Jacob’s behalf at the zoning hearing. A “Save Jacob” Facebook page has been formed to rally supporters to the horse’s cause.
“My neighbors, who I would wave to occasionally or chat with casually, got to be my friends. We spent more time outside together talking and helping each other out,” she said. “A girlfriend’s son who had been adopted out of foster care would come over to relieve his anxiety.”
The board will likely be interested in how the horse is being kept and whether he has enough space to roam, even if Jacob isn’t in much shape to roam these days. For now, Jacob spends his days in a roped-in area in St. John’s yard, with a food trough and a blanket to protect his old bones from the winter chill.
If the board ultimately votes to deny the request to keep Jacob at the home, the planning department will set a time by which the horse will have to be moved.
“We’ll put together a timeline for removal if the board denies it,” Moore said. “But it won’t have to be the next day. We’ll work with the property owner to set up a time.”
What happens to Jacob if he can’t stay at St. John’s is an open question. Land said she doesn’t have anyone else ready to take him, and she fears he’ll get injured or worse if he goes back to a large farm with other horses.
“He can’t stay here. It’s not safe,” she said, getting teary at the thought of her friend of 35 years losing his ideal retirement home. “I don’t know where he’ll go.”