A dispute over whether a Wilson County resident has the right to offer horseback training lessons on her property has made its way through the channels of appeals, and is now bound for Chancery Court next week.
The matter concerns Rebekah Hall, of 4555 Hickory Ridge Road. Hall began leasing the 8-acre property in 2017 because it had stable facilities in which she could keep and care for her horses.
Hall has been in the equine business for three decades, and she uses that expertise to provide opportunities for individuals from the surrounding area to learn and experience horseback riding. Her business, called Music City Riding Academy, is headquartered at the property, which is owned by her sister, Julia Tidwell, although Hall manages the day-to-day operations.
Late last year, the county was notified about Hall’s operation taking place on the property. During the January Wilson County Board of Zoning Appeals meeting, county Planning Director Tom Brashear said that the staff had no objections to residents of the property having horses.
The issue as Brashear presented it is that the county zoning ordinance didn’t permit inviting the public onto the property for use of those horses.
“This request does not fit within the home occupation provisions in our zoning ordinance which would be a small permitted commercial allowance in an R-1 district,” said Brashear at the meeting.
Brashear went on to say that staff saw, “no way to interpret this use as home occupation, nor could it fit under agri-tainment or agri-tourism found in state law for agricultural uses due to acreage limitations. The acreage is below thresholds that would qualify it as an agricultural use under greenbelt provisions.”
When it came time to vote back in January, the only board member who voted to allow Hall to continue operation was Perry Neal.
In a phone interview Thursday, Neal cited a couple reasons for this decision. He said he comes from an agricultural background and he firmly believes people should be able to conduct agriculture business on their land no matter how big it is.
Neal also pointed to Tennessee’s right to farm law protecting “certain types of farm operations from nuisance suits when their activities impact neighboring property, for example through noise.”
Those farming operations include “farmland, buildings, machinery, and activities that involve commercial agriculture production, including farm products and nursery stock such as forages, seeds, hemp, trees, vegetables, fruits, livestock, dairy, poultry… et cetera.”
Since Tennessee defines a horse as much a farm animal as a cow, Neal and Hall both feel like she has every right to operate this horse training business.
Some of the complaints against the business that were read aloud during the January meeting indicated that it was Hall’s neighbors who had reported her. Also included in the letter was information revealing pre-existing disputes between the neighbors, specifically concerning firearm discharge in proximity to the horses and Hall’s clients.
One letter said that Hall was “unreasonable in her request,” when she asked them to stop shooting target practice.
The letter said that on “two separate occasions” the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office was contacted regarding the matter and that both times deputies said the homeowner was doing nothing wrong by shooting his firearm outside city limits.
Wilson County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Scott Moore confirmed at least one instance of the deputies responding during May 2020.
Conversely, Hall said the neighbors were firing their guns intentionally to disrupt her training sessions and startle the horses. At this time, no criminal charges have been filed against either party.
Next week in Chancery Court, Hall will be represented by Neal Agee of Lebanon. Wilson County will be represented by its attorney, Mike Jennings, but he won’t be going it alone. Jennings has sought outside counsel in the form of Tom White, a Nashville-based lawyer who specializes in land use and zoning litigation.