Jacob the horse will be allowed to stay in his Fort Mill retirement home.
The York County Zoning Board of Appeals approved a variance that allows the retired riding horse to stay on the property off Old Nation Road (U.S. 21 Business) for the rest of his days.
Jacob is 35 years old – or nearly 100 in horse years – and was moved to the Fort Mill area by his owner to enjoy his retirement. He suffers from muscular atrophy, can’t move as well as he used to, and has lost most of his teeth.
Landowner Marston St. John put up a makeshift rope pen on her 1-acre property to house the animal, who still gives rides to children she invites over to the house. In a residentially zoned area such as St. John’s, horses can only be kept on a property of at least 5 acres.
St. John, backed by several neighbors at the hearing Thursday, said taking in Jacob had not only been beneficial for the horse, but it had helped out the neighborhood as well.
“He’s really special to about 100 people,” she said. “We compost the manure in the back shed and put it in our vegetable garden and my neighbor’s garden. It helps reduce pests.”
A neighbor’s complaint sent the case to the zoning board. St. John believes it was based on suspected abuse of the animal, since animal control officers have already been called to the home to investigate.
“He’s just not that pretty anymore,” she said.
But neighbor Tim Hood opposed the variance, saying it could create a precedent for more livestock being kept in the small yards of a residential area.
“I’ve seen him out there, he’s just under a tree when it rains,” Hood said of the horse. “He looks pitiful out there in inclement weather.”
But most of the crowd at the hearing seemed to be in Jacob’s corner. St. John’s friend Nicole Prascak said her foster son had bonded with Jacob and often asked to see him after school. The animal had helped bring her family together as well, she said.
“I adopted this little guy out of a series of foster homes, bad family experiences, and therapy,” Prascak said. “Now my kid is cleaning up horse poop. I never thought I’d say that.”
In his prime, Jacob was an active “schooling horse” at a riding academy in Marvin, N.C. He pulled sleighs when it snowed, rode in parades and took part in jumping competitions. He was so gentle with first-time riders, owner Carol Land even put her 92-year-old grandmother on him for her first ride. But as Jacob got older, Land wanted to get him away from life on a larger horse farm.
Board members were sympathetic to Jacob’s case, although member Michael Cox said given Jacob’s atrophied “sway” back, he probably shouldn’t have children riding on him anymore. Out of concern for setting a precedent, they approved a variance only during Jacob’s lifetime. St. John would need to reapply to take in another horse.
Some of Jacob’s supporters teared up after the decision, and St. John was at a loss for words.
“I’m kind of dumbfounded. We weren’t sure what would happen,” she said. “But we’re super-excited.”
Land earlier said she wasn’t sure where Jacob could go if he lost his home in Fort Mill. She hadn’t arranged for anyone else to take him in, and she feared for his health and safety if he moved back to a larger farm filled with younger, rowdier horses.