State laws finally back the right horse

Traffic halts before a red light at South 320th Street and Pacific Highway South in Federal Way.

For a moment, let’s replace the asphalt with dirt. Then replace all those shiny and rusty vehicles with horses.

In this case, the horses have made a comeback, returning to their original throne as beasts of burden. As modes of transportation, they are needed rather than wanted.

Horses were the first Mustangs as well as the first Pintos. Perhaps a hot-shot lawyer would sit atop a shiny thoroughbred race horse in lieu of that sporty black Mercedes. The trucker holds the reins to a fleet of heavy-duty draft horses that haul loads of lumber, while the working family’s aging minivan becomes a rickety wooden cart behind an old mule. Horseshoes replace tires, oats nourish like gasoline, and puddles of leaked fuel become piles of — well, you know.

Now let’s get out of La-La Land. Today, owning a horse is more of a hobby, luxury or both. However, horses represent one domestic animal in which supply thumbs its nose at demand.

This defiance stems not so much from respect as it does survival. We may not raise the horses for food or plow our own fields, but perhaps somewhere in the collective subconsciousness, we know these horses could bail us out if trouble strikes.

Should Mount Rainier decide to mimic Mount St. Helens and panic ensues, the wiser riders will skip the car-clogged roads and gallop to higher ground.

In everyday life, horses need open spaces, stables and attention. Horses also compete with urban development and an obsolescence that never quite lives up to its taunt.

That doesn’t mean horses don’t trot on unstable ground from time to time. In November, The Mirror reported on Washington state horse farmers whose livelihoods depend on these animals. In Federal Way, Ken and Jan Culliton faced the possibility of selling their horse boarding farm.

The issue in question: What exactly defines a farm in the current day?

The farmers took their vocal opposition to Olympia over a revised zoning law — and earned near-instant relief from the threat of triple taxes. The state Department of Revenue issued an emergency ruling to prevent collection of taxes on farmers who faced a reclassification of their land and tax status.

To the relief of these farmers, a permanent ruling is slated to surface in the coming months.

Like horses, farmers themselves are survivors. One reader suggested that today’s farmers are the true entrepreneurs who find ways to incorporate non-traditional practices including agri-tourism. The reader added: “Asking them to have to meet rigid out-of-date concepts about what farming is, or should be, is asking for the last of our farms to be bulldozed to make way for a strip mall or housing development.”

The Mirror appreciated that reader’s insight, and would like to raise a fist on behalf of farmers for this small victory.

Perhaps this will set a precedent of respect as King County’s urban/rural scale continues its lopsided tilt toward tires and asphalt.

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