A few years back, Polk County Sheriff’s deputies in Lakeland, Florida, arrested a 53-year-old woman for riding her horse down a busy highway while intoxicated. Officers responded to numerous 911 calls reporting a woman on a horse was galloping down the road and that they feared she might have been in danger. When officers conducted a roadside sobriety test and took a breath sample, the woman blew a .161—more than double Florida’s threshold limit for being legally intoxicated.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd commented that the woman not only placed herself and the horse in potential danger, but she also presented a risk to motorists on the usually busy thoroughfare.
The woman was subsequently charged with DUI as well as animal neglect for placing her horse in possible danger and not providing adequate protection for the animal. This was not the woman’s first offense as she had an extensive criminal history that included five felonies and ten misdemeanors ranging from possession of drugs, probation violations, animal cruelty, and criminal traffic offenses. The horse was secured at the Polk County Sheriff’s Department Animal Control livestock facility.
While it may seem odd for someone to actually receive a DUI on a horse, it is important to remember that DUIs have been issued across the country for operating anything from boats to bicycles to drones. There are other instances where police can and have issued DUIs for other, shall we say, nontraditional modes of transportation.
DUI on horseback across the country
So, which states have DUIs for riding animals, including horses? Whereas the incidence of this actually occurring is relatively low, there are some states with these laws on the books.
Michigan and Pennsylvania have specific prohibitions for intoxicated persons and the “vehicles” they are not permitted to “drive.” Specifically, if someone has been drinking, s/he is prohibited from riding a bicycle, driving a horse and buggy, operating farm equipment, driving a boat, and even riding a horse.
Similarly, Kentucky has a law that states one can receive a DUI for drinking a driving a non-motorized “vehicle.” Thus, even though horses are not explicitly stated, they are included in that category.
In Colorado, however, there is no specific law for a DUI-horse. Instead, such an action would be treated as a “normal” traffic violation with no alcohol-related enhancement.
DUI in a horse-drawn carriage
Closely related is the potential for a DUI for driving a horse and buggy while intoxicated; something a handful of states do, in fact, criminalize. This is particularly prevalent in rural areas where such transportation is common, such as in Pennsylvania’s Amish Country. Therefore, if someone decides to drive his/her horse-drawn carriage while intoxicated, consequences will likely ensue. At the heart of these laws is the potential of putting other people, animals, or property in harm’s way.
District attorneys are responsible for charging a suspect and—similar to vehicular DUIs—the charge can be a misdemeanor or felony, and the prosecutor retains charging discretion based on the facts of the case and totality of the circumstances. Thus, penalties can be more severe for felonies, as well as for habitual offenders.
Potential criminal penalties for a DUI-horse depend on the state. Whereas some states liken this behavior to simple public intoxication or a misdemeanor traffic offense, others consider this behavior akin to DUI, especially if done in a public place or on public thoroughfare. Penalties can include fines, probation, community service, and even jail time—quite similar to “regular” DUIs. Also, as was the case in the aforementioned Florida example, the defendant could face animal cruelty and other related charges.
What about Minnesota?
Pursuant to Minnesota Statute 169A.20, it is illegal for anyone to drive, operate, or be in physical control of any motor vehicle when said person is under the influence of alcohol, a controlled substance, a hazardous substance, or any combination thereof; has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or greater unless the vehicle is a commercial one in which case the BAC threshold is .04; or has any amount of a Schedule I or II controlled substance in his/her body, except for marijuana.
In Minnesota, however, a motor vehicle is defined by statute as “every vehicle which is self-propelled and every vehicle which is propelled by electric power obtained from overhead trolley wires” This seems to clearly eliminate horses from the DWI statute.
However, it is entirely possible and probable for intoxicated bicyclists or equestrians to crash resulting in property damage or injury of another. Therefore, such issues could be charged for a different crime possibly under a non-DWI statute depending on the facts of the case.
The bottom line is that some states have the right to classify a horse as a “proper” vehicle if it is the main mode of transportation, which is common in many parts of the country. In such cases there is a greater likelihood for DUI laws to specifically contain a provision for horses.