Is It Illegal to Ride a Horse While Drunk?

Have you ever wondered about the legality of riding a horse while intoxicated? As an experienced equestrian, I’ve seen my share of questionable behavior at the barn, but drunk horse riding takes things to a whole new level. In this article, I’ll explore the dangers, laws, and consequences surrounding this ill-advised activity.

In my opinion, climbing into the saddle after a few too many drinks is not only foolish—it can also be illegal. DUI laws don’t just apply to vehicles with engines. Depending on where you live, you could face criminal charges for riding a horse while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Trust me, a “cowboy DUI” is the last thing you want on your record.

DUI Laws and Riding a Horse Drunk

You might be surprised to learn that DUI on a horse is indeed a thing. Law enforcement can charge you with riding while intoxicated or riding under the influence in many jurisdictions. These horseback DUIs carry similar penalties to drunk driving charges, including fines, jail time, and a criminal record.

The legal definition of a vehicle varies by state, but it often includes any device that can transport a person or property—and that includes horses. Police have discretion in deciding whether a intoxicated equestrian poses a threat to public safety. Personally, I wouldn’t want to argue semantics with an officer while smelling like a brewery.

“Operating any kind of vehicle, including a 1200-pound animal, while impaired by alcohol is extremely dangerous,” warns Sheriff Jim Witherspoon of Yavapai County, Arizona. “If you’re too drunk to drive, you’re too drunk to ride.”

The bottom line is that riding a horse drunk is illegal in many places. It’s not worth the risk of injury, property damage, or ending up behind bars. Call a taxi, get a ride from a sober friend, or sleep it off in the hay loft—just stay out of the saddle.

Dangers of Riding a Horse While Intoxicated

Aside from the legal ramifications, riding a horse drunk is incredibly reckless. Alcohol impairs your balance, coordination, judgment and reaction time—all critical skills for controlling a large, unpredictable animal. Drunk horse riding dramatically increases the risk of falls, collisions, and other accidents that can injure both horse and rider.

Intoxicated horse riding also endangers innocent bystanders and other road users. A spooked or out-of-control horse can cause serious damage, especially in an urban environment. I shudder to think of a drunk rider navigating city streets during rush hour or barreling through a crowded park.

Furthermore, horses are sensitive, intuitive creatures that can sense when something isn’t right with their rider. An intoxicated human’s erratic behavior and rough cues can confuse, agitate or even panic a mount. Drunk horse riding is ultimately a form of animal abuse.

In my decades around horses, I’ve witnessed the aftermath of a few drunk horse riding incidents. I’ll never forget seeing a young gelding with bloody legs from being ridden through a barbed wire fence by his inebriated owner. It was devastating. Horses rely on us to keep them safe. Choosing to ride while impaired is a selfish betrayal of that trust.

Legal Consequences of Drunk Horse Riding

What happens if you do get caught riding under the influence? The charges and penalties depend on the specific laws where the offense takes place. However, some common charges associated with drunk horse riding include:

  • Animal endangerment – Putting a horse at risk of injury or death due to intoxicated handling
  • Disorderly conduct – Engaging in risky, disruptive or obnoxious behavior that disturbs the peace
  • Underage drinking – Possessing or consuming alcohol while under the legal drinking age (usually 21)
  • Various DUI-related charges – Riding under the influence, riding while intoxicated, DUI on a horse, etc.
  • Drunk riders who cause accidents, property damage or injuries may face additional charges like reckless endangerment, criminal mischief, or assault. If the intoxicated handling results in a horse’s death or serious injury, the rider could even be charged with animal cruelty—a felony in some states.

    The consequences of a drunk horse riding conviction often include hefty fines, probation, court-ordered substance abuse treatment, community service, and even jail time. You could also lose your driver’s license and your right to own horses or other animals. A criminal record will haunt your personal and professional life for years to come.

    State-Specific Laws on Riding Horses Under the Influence

    Some states have specific laws that prohibit riding a horse while drunk. For example, California Penal Code 598 includes horseback riding in its list of prohibited intoxicated activities. Violations are punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or a $250 fine.

    In Kentucky, home of the Kentucky Derby, state law KRS 189.520 outlaws operating any “non-motorized vehicle” under the influence, including horses and horse-drawn carriages. Offenders face the same penalties as drunk drivers, including license suspension and mandatory alcohol education classes.

    Montana Code 61-8-401 defines a vehicle as a device that transports people or property on a public roadway—and that definition has been interpreted to include horses. First-time DUIs in Big Sky Country can mean up to 6 months in jail and a $1000 fine.

    Even if a state doesn’t have an equine DUI statute, riding a horse drunk can still get you arrested under broader laws against public intoxication, disorderly conduct, animal abuse, or endangering an animal. If your intoxicated horse riding exhibits an obvious influence of drugs or alcohol, expect to face legal consequences.

    Alternatives to Riding a Horse Drunk

    I get it—sometimes you overindulge at the saloon after a long day of ranching. But riding home from the bar on your trusty steed is never the answer. Risking a DUI is bad enough, but putting an innocent animal in harm’s way is unforgivable.

    If you know you’ll be drinking, make transportation arrangements beforehand. Appoint a designated rider, call a ride-sharing service, or take a taxi. You can always retrieve your horse the next day when you’re sober.

    If you’re out on the trail and realize you’ve had too much, dismount and walk your horse back to the barn or campsite. Drink plenty of water, eat some food if you can, and sleep it off in a safe place. Your horse will appreciate your good judgment.

    A few years back, some friends and I were on a backcountry pack trip. One night around the campfire, a member of our group got pretty liquored up. He kept insisting he was “fine” and tried to mount up for a moonlight ride. It took three of us to wrestle him away from his horse and into his sleeping bag. The next morning, he was extremely grateful we stopped him from making a terrible mistake.

    Defending Against Drunk Horse Riding Charges

    If you do find yourself facing drunk horse riding charges, take the matter seriously. Consult an experienced criminal defense attorney who understands both DUI and animal law. They can assess the strength of the evidence against you and develop a strategy for your case.

    Potential defenses against drunk riding charges could include:

  • Challenging the legality of the traffic stop or arrest
  • Disputing the accuracy of any chemical tests or breathalyzer results
  • Arguing that the horse was a farm animal engaged in agricultural work, not a vehicle
  • Demonstrating that you were not actually riding the horse at the time of the arrest
  • However, the best defense is always prevention. Don’t put yourself in a position where you need to lawyer up over a drunk horse riding arrest. It’s not worth the financial, legal, and personal toll.

    As a lifelong horse lover, I’m begging you—don’t be that guy who ends up in the local paper for riding a horse drunk. It’s dangerous, irresponsible, and gives all equestrians a bad name. Respect yourself, respect the law, and respect your hooved companion. Ride sober or not at all.

    Photo of author

    Henry Abari