BRADENTON -- Palma Sola Causeway's breeze-swept beach is a lovely spot to ride a horse, but officials are again getting complaints about those who are not cleaning up after their animals.
Manatee County Commissioner John Chappie, who represents the area, has asked for help from the county staff in sorting out what to do, and recently met with Tim Mattox, the owner of Great World Adventures, LLC.
Mattox operates the business, which last year attracted roughly 2,000 customers for horseback rides and "horse surfing" along the causeway.
However, neighbors are not blaming him for manure left along walkways: They suspect private horse owners are trucking animals in so they can ride on one of the few beaches in the state that allows it.
Mattox said the commissioner had suggested perhaps a group like Keep Manatee Beautiful might be able to fashion a solution.
"He suggested working within the community existing structures to come up with solutions that would get it done, because Commission
er Chappie said he thought horses on the causeway was a wonderful thing, but we need some way of self-regulating, or some kind of actual regulation to make sure people do what they're supposed to do," Mattox said Friday.
"This is not rocket science: We're talking about horse poop. You know what I'm saying?"
Chappie has been receiving email complaints from at least one resident about horse manure littering the walkways.
Carolyn Gregov, who is retired now but has lived along the causeway for 22 years, said she is sick of having to avoiding manure left by those riding along the beach.
"The problem of horse manure on Palma Sola Causeway continues unabated," she wrote in an email to Chappie Monday.
"Today's deposit was particularly disgusting (see attached photos) since it was again on the Causeway bridge walkway, three separate piles of droppings," she wrote. "I also have photos from September 10, 11, 12, 14 and 15, should you wish more photos."
One day, she watched a fisherman shovel piles of horse manure off the walkway onto the beach itself, in an effort to clean piles that had remained there for three days, she wrote.
She acknowledged she didn't know who the culprits were, although she suspected "private individuals are probably the worst offenders."
She advocated a ban or some sort of tougher regulation, or perhaps restricting horses to the south side of the causeway, in order to keep them away from pedestrians, skaters and bicyclists on walkways on its north side.
People interviewed along the beach Thursday said they had no complaints about Mattox's business, which charges $119.95 an hour and is listed on the Internet at www.BeachHorses.com.
They said his company has been very careful about cleaning up.
"I used to ride my bike on the causeway all the time," said Russ Rogers, 68, who was fishing Thursday along the beach, and lives nearby. "The group that comes here as a business once left a mess on the sidewalk, but he (the business' employee) quickly picked it up and apologized."
"They've been very, very good lately," he added. "The little causeway bridge is where manure is usually [found]. It's probably private people not picking up -- they're the only ones riding over the bridge."
Horse owners enjoy riding along the sun-washed, palm-lined beach in the same leisurely fashion as those who rent horses do, he said. Perhaps they are not as careful about cleaning up as business owners are, he added.
His comment was seconded by Mary Ann Brockman, president of the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce.
"It's the individual people who own horses, I don't think we can blame the businesses," she said.
"I see so many trailers out there on the weekends: They're individuals, and they come out here and ride their horses in the water, and where are you going to go with that?"
Part of the difficulty of keeping the causeway clean involves jurisdictional questions.
The Bradenton City Council last year dropped an effort to ban horseback riders along the causeway, which is better known as State Road 64, after its attorney concluded the land is owned by the state. "In the situation at hand, specifically concerning riding horses on the causeway, it is a state road and not a city street, so it falls under the sole jurisdiction of the FDOT (Florida Department of Transportation)," wrote William R. Lisch, city attorney, in a memo to council members, The Herald reported at the time.That would include riding horses out into the waters, which are within the city limits, since those waters are also part of the state road system, Lisch decided.
"You understand, this is a funny situation, in that the FDOT really is in charge of the causeway," explained Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston last week.
He cited a letter from Lance Grace, an engineer for the Florida Department of Transportation.
"The Department allows the public to use its right-of-way on the causeway for recreation," said the letter. "It would not be possible for the Department to restrict the use for some, but allow it for others; the use is either allowed or prohibited for all."
Grace also noted that local governments can cite anyone whose activities constitute a hazard or a danger to traveling public; and that health and water quality issues are dealt with by the Manatee County Health Department.
"My attitude is we want that whole causeway to be as clean and as wholesome as DisneyWorld," said Mattox, the business owner. "We're just one of many users of the causeway and the beaches and the waterways there."
"We want it to be a very clean and nice, fun beach, where people can go and do things that, on some other beaches, you can't do," he added.
His company hosts horse owners who, while they've ridden, jumped and shown animals for years, have never really experienced riding a horse when it's swimming.
"That market segment is someone we could use to encourage people to visit Bradenton, as opposed to some other beach destination," he added.
Horse surfing, which Mattox said he invented on the Palma Sola Causeway a few years ago, involves people trying to stand on the back of a horse while it walks in about four feet of water.
Bradenton's unusual sport attracts the adventurous from all over the U.S. and the world, he said.
Mattox hit upon the idea when he started taking free pictures of his clients in order to jazz up his fledgling business' website.
One day, he was photographing two ladies and their teen daughters, as they sat on horseback in the water.
"I said, 'You look bored, do something to entertain me,'" Mattox recalled. "'Why don't you stand up, or something?'"
They did, and the rest is history.
"The smiles on their faces, I could see their braces," Mattox remembered of the teens that day.
"I used those pictures, and right away, we called it 'horse surfing.' It was really just a goof."