Raj and Dandy are city horses. They’re living the country life mere feet from half-million-dollar homes. The pasture where they graze is just a few blocks from the ferry dock in Mukilteo.
On Saturday, the Arab horse and the Arab-quarter horse cross will have a little get-together. Visitors to their home on an acre and three-quarters will see how urban horses manage to keep the neighbors happy.
They manage it with a lot of help.
Alan and Mary Shank own Raj and Dandy. The couple live on land where Mary Shank’s father, Jack Bergstrom, settled when he came west from Minnesota in 1913. Mary’s grandfather worked in the Superior Shingle Mill on the Mukilteo waterfront.
She grew up in the house her parents built in 1948, and she and her husband live there now.
Times have changed since Mary’s older sister would ride a horse from Mukilteo to Silver Lake. “All her friends had horses,” she said.
Having horses isn’t so simple today, as development encroaches on what was once farmland. There are city codes, environmental issues and neighbors’ noses to consider.
The Shanks do it right. Alan Shank works as a farm planner with the Snohomish Conservation District. The agency uses county, state and federal funds to provide technical help so landowners can protect the environment.
On Saturday, the Shanks will host a horse farm tour to demonstrate how they keep their property clean. It’s sponsored by the conservation district and the education group Horses for Clean Water.
The tour will showcase mudless paddocks covered with bark and gravel; compost bins and manure management; biological fly control using nonstinging wasps; a French drain, gutters and other ways to deal with drainage; and how horses graze in rotation on sectioned-off areas of pasture. Keeping Puget Sound clean is the big goal.
Alan Shank’s expertise translates into contented neighbors who came to the couple’s defense when Mukilteo recently changed its animal ordinance.
“We’ve been here almost three years,” said Cathy Kouchakji, whose home on a cul-de-sac backs up to the Shanks’ pasture. “We’re upwind from them and were at first concerned about flies and odor.
“Alan and Mary are outstanding neighbors. He is out there at 4 every morning taking pristine care of the horses.”
Cathy and Mitch Kouchakji are among neighbors who wrote letters supporting the Shanks when Mukilteo officials considered banning horses on small parcels.
“We were changing the whole animal code,” said Glen Pickus, associate planner with the city. The first proposal would have required a full acre per horse. “Alan Shanks provided information suggesting it be modified, and we ultimately agreed.”
The law, approved by the City Council in August, allows horses on 20,000 square feet, less than half an acre, if owners have a farm management plan. The conservation district’s farm practices are incorporated into the code, which allows up to three horses on property in the city.
“How often do you get the benefit of both worlds?” said Cara Davelaar. She and her husband, Garrett, also wrote letters to the city. Their three children are enthralled by the horses, she said.
“We’re very close to the city atmosphere. We have our neighbors, the view and a farm in my back yard,” Davelaar said. “We’re very lucky.”
Dotty Bock, who lives next to the Shanks, agrees. “I never have to worry about any runoff or smells. They’re always working on it, always thinking of their neighbors.”
The couple’s latest project is an outdoor arena where they work on horsemanship through a method called Parelli. It uses no-force exercises emphasizing communication with the animals. Asked if she’s on her way to becoming a horse whisperer, Mary Shank joked, “More like a horse shouter.”
Out in the pasture, with its sweeping view of Whidbey and Hat islands, life looks mighty fine for Dandy and Raj.
“These horses have the best view in the state,” Mary Shank said. “They can see the ferry and watch the beach. It’s the horsy Hilton.”
Columnist Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or email@example.com.