Want to train animals on BC farmland? It matters what kind

Dog training is banned on properties in BC's agricultural land reserve, but training horses is fine, an Abbotsford landowner has found

By Tyler Olsen | September 28, 2022 |5:00 am

Agricultural land is for horses, not dogs.

Specifically in this case: for horse training but not dog training.

A recent proposal before the City of Abbotsford’s agricultural advisory committee illustrates the prized position horses continue to have when it comes to BC’s restrictive farm rules.

Five years ago, the owner of a large Bradner property built a 13,000-square-foot covered barn on his property to train horses. He then filled the barn with special, expensive sand—and found it is a lot easier to keep that sand clean training dogs, rather than horses.

Continues below

Join more than 25,000 other Fraser Valley residents by subscribing to our newsletter. Every weekday morning you’ll get a new feature story and other stories, news, and events from Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Langley, Mission and the rest of the valley. See a recent newsletter here.

Get FV Current in your inbox.

Plug in to the news that matters in Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Mission, and the rest of the Fraser Valley.

By filling out the form above, you consent to receive emails from Fraser Valley Current. You can unsubscribe at any time. View our privacy policy here.

Having trouble with the form? Contact us at contact@fvcurrent.com.

Wrong side of the farm law

The sand Harold Smith bought to fill his Ross Road barn had special felt and fiber to ease the stress on horses. But it was expensive: Smith later wrote to the City of Abbotsford that it cost him more than $35,000.

Over the ensuing years, some horses used the facility, but not many. They made too much of a mess in the expensive sand, which Smith liked to keep clean.

Dogs, on the other hand, were perfect. The facility’s owner found that the sand made his building a great training location for another beloved farm and non-farm animal: dogs.

The sand eased the stress on the joints of the dogs and the humans that ran along them. The dogs didn’t make as much of a mess as the horses.

And other places in the region used for dog agility training either had poor sand or concrete floors.

There was just one problem: it matters what sort of animals you’re training on land in the Agricultural Land Reserve, and land zoned for agriculture in the City of Abbotsford. (The two designations frequently, though not always, overlap).

Standalone horse-training facilities are allowed on ALR land. Standalone dog-training sites are not. (Although, curiously, “dog trials” held on agricultural land for agri-tourism purposes are allowed.)

So Smith was forced to apply—first to the City of Abbotsford, then to the Agricultural Land Commission—for a special non-farm use exemption that would allow the dogs to keep running in the barn.

The rules do allow training as part of kennel or dog-breeding operations. But Smith wrote that he doesn’t want to breed or board pups. He just wanted his building to be used to train them.

The first step in the pursuit for permission was a meeting of the Abbotsford Agricultural Advisory Committee, which gets to add its two cents to whether the city should endorse applications sent to the ALC.

That meeting took place earlier this month. At it, committee member Casey Pruim noted the similarities between the banned dog use and the permitted horse use.

“No offence to any horse lovers, but I guess I struggle to see the difference between horses and dogs as far as running them around a ring.”

But others wondered why the dogs needed to be trained on precious agricultural land at all.

The use of farmland for purposes not explicitly permitted by BC’s land use rules is discouraged because of the scarcity of good agricultural properties. Farmland is not only useful, but it’s much cheaper than industrial or commercial land, and there are longstanding worries that there is a slippery slope when it comes to accepting new uses for such properties.

The concern is not just that farmland will be used for purposes that aren’t strictly related to farming, but that leniency will increase the demand for agricultural properties and drive up the prices across the region.

Many also consider horses partly to blame for dwindling farm production on agricultural land, especially in Langley and Abbotsford. Owners of farm properties can receive huge tax breaks if they can show a certain level of farm income. The boarding and sale of expensive horses is a common way some owners of rural mansions and estates can hit those income thresholds without having to actually grow any food.

As for the owner of the barn, Smith looks to face an uphill battle to get official sign-off for his dog training facility.

The committee voted to recommend the city not support Smith’s application. The Ministry of Agriculture also suggested that the dog training facility shouldn’t be approved, writing that dog training should be done in commercial or industrial areas.

Abbotsford council or the ALC could still end up pursuing another course.

But if they agree to deny the application, the dog training facility could still stay. The owner would just need to jump through a couple hoops of his own: to qualify as a dog kennel, he would need to board four dogs and have a business licence.

Join more than 25,000 other Fraser Valley residents by subscribing to our newsletter. Every weekday morning you’ll get a new feature story and other stories, news, and events from Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Langley, Mission and the rest of the valley. See a recent newsletter here.

Get FV Current in your inbox.

Plug in to the news that matters in Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Mission, and the rest of the Fraser Valley.

By filling out the form above, you consent to receive emails from Fraser Valley Current. You can unsubscribe at any time. View our privacy policy here.

Having trouble with the form? Contact us at contact@fvcurrent.com.

Tyler Olsen

Managing Editor at Fraser Valley Current

Tags in this Article

Latest Articles

The key news happening in the Fraser Valley.

News   Politics

November 26, 2022

More residents, fewer voters, as valley records a staggering drop in election turnout

Voter turnout had actually been on the rise in recent local elections. Then 2022 hit.

Health   News

November 25, 2022

Where is employee safety most at-risk?

Bosses across the Fraser Valley were penalized for endangering the safety of its workers. Abbotsford employers were responsible for the most number of fines in the last five years.