Ten years ago, after Judee Haddock married off the last of her three children, her house in Orange County suddenly felt very quiet. She was 53 years old -- far too young and far too healthy, she figured, to sit around listening to the floorboards creak.

"No more kids. No more husbands," she said with a chuckle. "Time for a change."

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She bought a house in Norco, in the northwest corner of Riverside County. The place was a dump; her children were aghast. She tore it down to the frame, and piece by piece, put it back together, with flowering shrubs in the front to filter out the dust and high society garlic bushes in the back. Soon it was a refined country home. City Hall gave her a beautification award.

"All by my lonesome," she said on a recent afternoon. "Well," she added, almost apologetically, "with the help of the manure, of course."

Of course.

Every morning, Haddock picks up behind her two horses, Dakota and Teepee, who live in her backyard corral. She dries their droppings in the sun, grinds them down a bit with a small tractor, then sprinkles them over her landscaping.

She has become quite fond of the routine, but she may not do it for much longer. Because Norco -- self-proclaimed "Horsetown U.S.A.," where riding, training and breeding horses comprise the sum of civic identity, where there are hitching posts outside the Rite-Aid and the Saddle Sore Eatery & Saloon -- is at war over manure.

The city is divided over several manure-related issues. There is a pending battle over whether new fees should be levied to pick up large bins of manure from businesses and a proposal to convert manure into electricity. But the most divisive issue is whether City Hall should be able to dictate the manner in which manure is disposed of -- or whether homeowners should be allowed to do with it as they please.

Many Norco residents have watched in recent years as communities across Southern California that once harbored horses have passed increasingly stricter rules that have driven out horse lovers. Norco, locals believe, is all that is left.

"This is the last mecca, the last Alamo of horse country," said former Mayor Harvey Sullivan, 68, a retired electrician.

That's why, to critics like Haddock and Sullivan, the debate is about something greater than horse manure. City Hall has been reminded that the only thing Norconians love as much as their horses is being left alone. Proposed rules requiring pick-up, opponents believe, are nothing less than an assault on their lifestyle.

"We think it's a bunch of hooey," Haddock said. "Your home will not be your home anymore. It's that simple."

City officials say their hand was forced.

Two years ago, Norco was fined nearly $80,000 after water quality officials determined the city had not "established a mechanism to adequately address pollutants from horse manure."

One concern was that pollutants could be carried by storm water into creeks and underground water supplies.

The report estimated that there were about 20,000 horses in Norco's 14 square miles. If that's true -- there have been estimates as high as 50,000 -- the water quality officials contend that Norco generates a million pounds of manure every day.

To some residents, the report was startling. City officials responded in part with a proposed ordinance that would require residents to put manure in trash bins for removal.

City officials are expected to vote on the proposal in comings weeks -- and say additional regulation is likely.

"There are people who just don't worry about keeping their corrals clean," said Berwin Hanna, who stepped down as president of the Norco Horsemen's Assn. in 2007 to serve his first term on the City Council. "I think it's just unhealthy as heck to have it lying around."