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Recently we were trail riding, and some of the people with us were riding their horses drunk. Knowing these people were riding horses above the legal alcohol limit for driving a car on roadways made me wonder if they could be charged with a DUI on their horse.
You can get charged with DUI while riding a horse in some states; however, most states’ laws limit DUI violations to motor vehicles’ operation, and horseback riding doesn’t fall under these statutes. DUI laws are not uniform, so check your state’s regulations before you decide to drink and ride.
Many people who trail ride like to drink alcohol but don’t think about getting a DUI. However, they should because being charged with a DUI on a horse can happen, and if you get one, it is costly.
Can you be charged with a DUI while riding a horse?
DUI laws are typically written with motor vehicles in mind, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t be charged with a DUI while riding a horse. If you’re caught riding a horse while under the influence of alcohol, you could technically be charged with a DUI, depending on where you are.
Each state has statutes that govern DUI charges, and in many, a horse doesn’t fall under the DUI provisions; however, in others, a person can be charged with a DUI riding a horse if their blood alcohol content is above the legal limit.
But it’s important to keep in mind that prosecution for a horse-related DUI would likely only occur if you were causing some sort of public disturbance or posing a danger to yourself or others.
In the following sections of this article, I’ll review the various state statutes and cases to provide an overview of the prevailing DUI laws and how they pertain to horse riding across the country.
Can You Get a DUI On a Horse in Louisiana?
Louisiana residents do a lot of drinking and horseback riding. So, I thought it a good idea to provide information on how the DUI laws apply to drunk horseback riding; plus, it’s the state where I live.
A plain reading of the DUI statute in Louisiana clearly doesn’t include horses. A DUI charge for riding your horse drunk may not be applicable, but this doesn’t mean you are scot-free.
The short answer is no, but before we go too far, let’s look at what is considered intoxication in Louisiana DUI laws.
For DUI purposes, a person under 21 years old with a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of 0.02 percent or a person over 21 with a BAC of 0.08 percent is legally intoxicated under Louisiana’s laws.
You can find the law governing DUI in Louisiana in RS 14:98. This statute prohibits the operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated. The statute states:
A.(1) The crime of operating a vehicle while intoxicated is the operating of any motor vehicle, aircraft, watercraft, vessel, or other means……. http://legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78751
In 2015 a man near Baton Rouge got legally intoxicated at a daiquiri shop and hopped on his horse to ride home. Before he could make it back, a police officer noticed the odd couple galloping down a highway.
It didn’t take the officer long to recognize the man was drunk. The officer, aware of Louisiana DWI law, knew charging the rider with DWI was not an option, so he ticketed him for public drunkenness and required a family member to pick him up along with his designated driver (the horse).
Watch the news report on the incident, wbrz.com/news/drunk-cowboy
Can You Get a DWI/DUI On a Horse in Texas?
Recently we traveled to Texas for the Fort Worth Stockshow and saw people riding horses in town, many after drinking way too much alcohol. Seeing these drunks on horseback made me curious if the DUI laws in Texas apply to horseback riders.
Texas DWI law requires the operation of a motorized vehicle to charge an individual with driving while intoxicated. The definition includes cars, trucks, motorcycles, motorboats, and aircraft.
No provision includes horseback riding in Texas DWI law. Lawmakers chose not to add language to include ride horses drunk in their DWI laws.
Since police officers are likely unfamiliar with drunk horseback riding laws, they may charge a rider with DWI. However, the charge would probably be dropped or reduced to a lesser charge of animal endangerment.
The following example from Austin illuminates this point. Two men were riding their horses drunk on the streets of Austin (actually, only one was on a horse, and the other was riding a mule).
They were arrested and charged with DWI. Eventually, the district attorney dropped the charges because they determined horses don’t fit the description of a “motor vehicle.”
Can You Get a DUI On a Horse in California?
California has many horseback riding sanctuaries around the state, and they also have stringent laws. I’m curious to know California’s DUI position concerning horseback riding.
Riding a horse drunk on public roads in California violates the law. California Vehicle Code Section 21050 states that a person riding animals on California roads must abide by the vehicle codes. The court in People v. Fong confirmed that persons riding animals are subject to California DUI laws.
Has anyone been charged with DWI for riding a horse drunk on California roads? Yes, in 2018, a man riding his white steed on the freeway with a blood alcohol content of .021 was arrested and charged under the California DWI code.
Can You Get a DUI on a Horse In North Carolina?
The mountains in North Carolina are beautiful and an excellent place for a trail ride. But what is the state’s position on riding a horse drunk on public roads?
In North Carolina, it is a DUI violation to ride your horse intoxicated. In the case of State v. Dellinger, the court found a horseback rider guilty of DWI for riding his horse on a public road with a blood alcohol content above the legal limits. The case citation is 73 N.C. App. 685, (1985).
In Dellinger, the court found that a person riding a horse was bound by the same laws as any person operating a vehicle on a public roadway. The court further concluded that horses fell within the definition of a vehicle.
Over the years, the legislature has unsuccessfully attempted to remove horses from the DWI laws.
Can You Get a DUI on a Horse in Michigan?
When we sent a racehorse to run at a racetrack in Michigan, I was surprised by the state’s large horse community. Because of the large number of horses in the area, I wondered if it was a violation of Michigan’s laws to ride a horse drunk.
Michigan DWI law doesn’t apply to horseback riding because it requires the operation of a motor vehicle. Ironically enough, Michigan does include a horse in its definition of a vehicle. But to be convicted under Michigan DUI laws, you have to be operating a motor vehicle while impaired.
If you are horseback riding drunk on Michigan roads, you can be charged with crimes other than DUI, say public drunkenness, or drunk and disorderly conduct.
Can You Get a DUI on a Horse in Colorado?
When driving through the mountain communities of western Colorado, we often saw horseback riders on the road. The frequency of riders made me wonder if Colorado has a DUI law prohibiting riding horses drunk.
Under Colorado DUI laws, a person can not be charged for riding a horse on the road drunk, but they can be charged under a different statute. Colorado has a prohibition against riding animals drunk on their roads, other than a DUI.
Colorado DUI statutes state that it’s a violation of the law for a person to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Clearly, horses are not motor vehicles.
Can You Get a DUI on a Horse in Kentucky?
Kentucky is home to horses, bluegrass fields, and fine bourbon, a combination that’s surely resulted in horseback riding and drinking. So how do Kentucky’s DUI laws address riding horses on the roads drunk?
In Kentucky, it’s a violation of the DUI laws to ride a horse on public roads drunk, and the ticket and prosecute drunk horseback riders. As a matter of fact, Kentucky DUI is so broad they can ticket you for being drunk on the streets sitting in just about anything, including a wheelchair.
But, some believe the courts have stretched beyond reason to include horses in the definition of a vehicle. Regardless of the result, you can be charged and convicted in Kentucky for DUI on horseback.
Can You Get a DUI on a Horse in Washington State?
Washington state is known for being liberal and having more relaxed laws than other areas of the country. Their laid-back attitude made me wonder how they addressed DUIs and horseback riding.
Washington state’s DUI laws do not apply to horseback riding drunk. Washington statute RCW 46.61.502 requires operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating alcohol or drugs to be found guilty of DUI.
Washington defines a “motor vehicle” as “any vehicle that is self-propelled and every vehicle that is propelled by electric power obtained from overhead trolley wires, but not operated upon rails.” https://app.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=46.04.320
Accordingly, a conviction for DUI while on a horse is not possible because a horse is not a vehicle, a necessary element of the crime of DUI. Of course, you could be and likely would be charged with other crimes, maybe public drunkenness or cruelty to animals. The charges will depend on the facts of each case.
Can You Get a DUI on a Horse in Florida?
A good friend of ours owns a horse ranch in northern Florida and often has gatherings there. Recently some of the guys got drunk and rode their horses across a major thoroughfare. Were they subject to a DUI?
It is a violation of Florida’s DUI laws to ride a horse drunk on public roadways. Florida DUI law defines a vehicle as a “device”…A horse is clearly not a device; however, this has not prevented law enforcement from charging people for the crime of DUI while on horseback.
In 2017 a 53-year-old woman who seemed disoriented was riding her horse on a highway. A bypasser notified the police, and when they arrived, they noticed she was confused and lost.
The officers administered a sobriety and BAC (blood alcohol content) test. The testing revealed the rider had twice the legal limit of alcohol in her bloodstream, prompting charges of driving under the influence and animal neglect.
The state piled on charges of disorderly intoxication, animal endangerment, and culpable negligence to her list of crimes. Because a horse is not a vehicle per Florida law, the DUI will be dropped more than likely. Could this have been a reason the D.A. added charges?
Can You Get a DUI on a Horse in Tennessee?
Tennessee is a beautiful state with a rich history of horses, music, and whiskey. Mixing two of the three could cause problems if Tennessee has a law prohibiting riding horses when drunk.
Tennessee DUI laws do not include horses. The law is clear; you can only get a DUI when operating a motor vehicle. A horse does not qualify as a motor vehicle in Tennessee. Tennessee has other laws to charge a drunk horseback rider, with some having as harsh a punishment as DUI.
However, under Tennessee law, a homeowner can be charged with DUI for cutting his grass while intoxicated. The relevant Tennessee law is Tennessee Code Annotated section 55-10-402, which prevents a person from being in physical control of a motor-driven vehicle while under the influence.
This statute applies to people riding their lawnmowers. Tennesse courts have held a motor-driven vehicle to be any “self-propelled’ vehicle. See State v. Freels. This could lead to absurd results.
Can You Get A DUI While Driving a Horse-Drawn Carriage
When in Pennslyvania, we passed many horse-drawn carriages on the road. The high number of carriages made me wonder how they were treated under the DUI laws.
It is a violation of DUI laws to operate a carriage or a horse and buggy on the roads drunk in most states. In Pennsylvania, horses and buggies are common on the roadways. So naturally, the laws of transportation that apply to cars also apply to carriages and wagons.
Many states with a significant population of horse-drawn carriages expressly prohibit their operation while intoxicated. To read about large draft breeds, click here.
Is it legal to ride a horse drunk in Montana?
The Montana Department of Transportation ran an advertisement encouraging riding horses from bars. This ad made me feel confident that their DUI laws wouldn’t include horses.
In Montana, horseback riding intoxicated is not a crime under state DUI laws. The state DUI law requires that a vehicle not be animal-powered to meet the criteria for a vehicle in a DUI. So horseback riding does not apply. Bicycles and wheelchairs are also excluded. See Montana Code 61-1-101 (84)(a),
Riding a horse under the influence is legal in Montana. This issue came to the forefront when the Montana Department of Transportation released an advertisement depicting a horse tied outside a bar.
The intent was to inform patrons to plan and have a horse ready to ride home instead of driving home intoxicated. The advertisement prompted people to question whether it is legal to ride a horse drunk in Montana.
Below is a YouTube news video from Florida about a woman charged with a DUI while riding a horse.
Sonja Bradley is an attorney licensed in the State of Louisiana and experienced in Louisiana DUI law. This article provides information and is not legal advice.
If you have been charged with a crime or need legal counsel, you should contact an experienced criminal attorney in your state to protect your rights. Driving a car or riding a horse on a road drunk is never a good idea. You can click here to visit Sonja Bradley’s website.
Sonja Bradley is a Licensed Attorney in the State of Louisiana. She has been in private practice for 18 years.
1250 SW R.R. Ave.
Hammond LA 70403