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Pinellas County votes to ban horseback riding in waters around Skyway Bridge

Some commissioners worried horseback riding was leading to higher than normal bacteria levels and seagrass damage.

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The sight of horses swimming through the waters near the Skyway Bridge will soon be a thing of the past.  Pinellas County Commissioners voted Tuesday, passing an ordinance to protect the waters of Tampa Bay.

“We are a very pristine county,” said Commissioner Janet Long speaking at Tuesday night’s meeting.  “It is very, very fragile.  We only have one body of water to protect.”

County commissioners said they're worried horseback riding through Tampa Bay was contributing to higher than normal bacterial levels from horses pooping in the water, which could lead to human health risks and environmental damage. There were other concerns as well.

“They’re breaking up those seagrass beds and we need every bit that we have,” said one member of the public who stood up to speak at the meeting.

But, not everyone agreed.  Many people said they feel like the county was overreacting and singling out a small number of horses when commissioners should be cracking down on much bigger offenders.

“To me, it’s kind of silly to worry about a little bit of horse poop when the city of St. Pete is pumping millions of gallons of sewage into the Bay,” said another public speaker.

In the end, commissioners approved the ordinance 5-1 for banning horseback riding in the water.

“We are very disappointed,” said Carmen Hanson, the owner of C Ponies Beach Horseback Rides. "We feel like we’ve lost it for all the horse owners who enjoy riding out in the water and enjoy a little piece of heaven."

Business owners said the ordinance doesn’t just apply to horses.

“We definitely feel like we’re railroaded and we’re going to tell dog parks and kiteboarders to watch out, you’re next,” said Hanson.

“With this ordinance, they can get everyone.”

The county promises to leave the door open for the possibility of allowing horseback riding on certain beaches away from the water, perhaps somewhere like Fort DeSoto.  But for now, businesses like Hanson’s will soon have to find new places for their customers to ride.

“Hopefully for the next couple days, we’ll be able to get the people with existing reservations one last ride. Then the beginning of next week we’ll have to shut our barn doors.”

RELATED: Ban on horseback riding in the water could be coming to Tampa Bay

RELATED: Pinellas County school board votes for medical marijuana in school policy

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