In a city where both horse trails and freeways crisscross the region, equine owners are usually on the same side in fights over development or preservation.
But a recently proposed "horse census" - a plan to enforce a horse-licensing fee as a way to count the number of horses in Los Angeles - is dividing equine owners in the Valley.
Supporters say the plan to enforce a little-known $14 annual horse license, similar to a dog permit, will help city planners protect equestrian communities from development.
They argue that licensing will help the city Planning and Animal Services departments learn how many horses reside in Sylmar, Shadow Hills, and other horse-owning neighborhoods in the city.
"It's all a gray area," said Lynn Brown, a member of the Los Angeles Equine Advisory Committee, a city-mandated committee, which backs enforcement of the fee. "You can register or not, and there are no ramifications."
But deep distrust of government is leading other horse owners to speak out against the licensing fee.
"For me, this comes down to regulation," said Tracey Lee, a horse owner whose parents raised Arabian horses in Shadow Hills. "We're already regulated enough. This is another chance to get in our pockets."
Lee was one of numerous horse owners who were sent a letter last week from Animal Services. About 500 people who own "Brown Bin" trash cans - used to hold horse waste - were mailed the letters asking them to pay the fee.
City Councilman Richard Alarcón is leading the renewed effort for licensing and offering to discount the fees to encourage horse owners to license their livestock. The horse-licensing fee is being applied toward equestrian trails - in areas like Hansen Dam and Griffith Park - so
More importantly, horse licensing allows Planning Department staff to know where horses live, helping them make more informed planning decisions.
Equestrian advocates says it's increasingly common for homeowners to move into neighborhoods like Shadow Hills and tear down barns and build a house, without realizing they have moved into a horse community.
"We need an equine count," said Dale Gibson, owner of Sunland-based Gibson Ranch, who backs the enforcement of the licensing fee. "There's developers waiting for these ranches."
But numerous obstacles remain. Los Angeles is believed to be one of the only cities to attempt enforcement of horse licensing.
Three years ago, angry horse owners beat back a New Hampshire lawmaker's plans for horse-licensing legislation. A similar fight occurred last year in Oregon.
Melanie Coto, owner of Sylmar-based Monte Verdes Trails Stables, believes some Latino groups, including the Mexican charros, or cowboys who ride in the East Valley in traditional dress, are resistent to a mandatory fee.
"In our countries, we don't want to have the governments in our business," said Coto, who supports the fee but wants the city to do more education.
Alarcón, who plans to take up the licensing issue again next month, understands the culture clash.
His grandfather plowed the hills of North Hollywood in the 1920s with horses, and he watched the number of equestrian communities gradually dwindle in his hometown of Sun Valley.
"There's an Old West attitude that comes with owning horses, and to have to license or permit your horse runs counter to that spirit," Alarcón said. "But it's something we have to transition to."