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Since incorporating in 1964, the city of Norco, Calif., has worked hard to maintain its reputation as a horse-friendly municipality, adopting legislation to preserve its equestrian atmosphere. Photo: City of Norco

In Norco, the horse is king. Situated 50 miles west of Los Angeles, this affluent community (population 27,000, average income $73,046) has 108 miles of streets—and 120 miles of horse trails. Light poles at intersections are graced with two crossing buttons: one for pedestrians, another a few feet higher for riders.

Equestrian activity is important to Norco's ambience and economy. Dozens of rodeos, riding competitions, and horse shows visit the city every year, and the trail-riding business brings in additional revenue. To safeguard this way of life, city leaders have taken action to ensure that a horse-friendly atmosphere continues to reign.

“Norco is a close-knit community where people care about quality of life, and preserving our values and rural environment,” says mayor Harvey Sullivan. “We consider Norco to be the last stand in preserving the equestrian lifestyle in southern California.”

With urban sprawl nipping around Norco's edges, the city council has reined in the effects of growth by limiting development.

Commercial developments must be built on lots of at least ½ acre. Sites must be designed with railroad ties, shutters, wooden walkways, earth-tone paints, and other Western-themed elements as laid out in a manual the city gives to developers. Businesses must provide horse-trail access and corrals for customers who choose to visit on horseback.

Norco also places restrictions on residential construction and property ownership. New developments include horse-related amenities, such as horse trails and arenas in parks. Residents must maintain a deed-restricted primary animal-keeping area on which no structure but a stable can be built. Another rule says “whoa!” to homeowners thinking about subdividing their property, or supplanting trails or corrals with swimming pools, fire pits, extended driveways, or otherwise paving over designated horse areas.

Upholding Norco's reputation as a horse-friendly hamlet entails other costs as well. The task of maintaining the horse trails falls upon the public works department, which spends 25% of its street-maintenance budget on trail upkeep.

“It's a bigger challenge than sidewalk maintenance in most cities,” says public works director Bill Thompson. “Horses don't damage streets, sidewalks, or other infrastructure, but they bring a host of other challenges, such as maintaining trails with decomposed granite, and the ongoing task of weed abatement.” The constant replacement of trail fence posts and rails constitutes a significant expense.

Overall, leaders, citizens, and businesses happily share the duties of preserving Norco's equestrian environment. Property owners help keep the public right of way free of weeds and debris, and several constituents and community organizations volunteer to care for segments of the trails in the city's “Adopt-A-Trail” program.

“Nearly everybody shares a passion for maintaining Norco as Horsetown USA,” says Sullivan.