Can A Person Be Arrested For Riding A Horse While Intoxicated?

Just horsing around

Although we’ve previously blogged about a previous case involving a DWI on a horse out of Kentucky, a more recent article discussed the case of a Montana woman who set out one night drunk, on horseback and also ended up behind bars facing DWI charges. The article says the Billings woman’s rough night began late one the evening when she decided to ride through the middle of town on her horse, obviously intoxicated. The police were called in to deal with the situation and asked her to return to her house several blocks away.

When she arrived back at home the woman, Dawnalee Ellis-Peterson, was apparently riled up and decided to call the police department to give them a piece of her mind. She yelled at the operator about how she ought to be allowed to ride around on her horse without getting pulled over. Not long after the call, an officer was sent to the house to check on Peterson. When the officer arrived, Peterson refused to come to the door, instead yelling that she was drunk and needed to be left in peace. The officer did as she asked and left.

Sadly for Peterson, she decided to yet again venture outside her home before sobering up. This time, rather than hop on her horse, she jumped in the cab of her pickup truck. It did not take long for a neighbor to report her to the police who picked her up down the road and charged her with felony DUI.

Shockingly, this was not Peterson’s first brush with the law while operating a horse. Back in 2004, police say she was arrested for disorderly conduct for riding a horse in the same area while topless and drinking a can of malt liquor.

If you’ll notice, Peterson’s previous arrest was not for drunk driving, but instead for disorderly conduct. That’s because in Montana, the definition of a vehicle specifically excludes any form of transportation that is powered by an animal. That means that Peterson would have again avoided a drunk driving charge had she simply hopped back on her horse rather than in her pickup.

The whole drunken horse-riding situation might lead you to wonder what would happen if Peterson had been in a state like Minnesota, what do the laws in other states say about such intoxicated equestrian displays? Minnesota law (Minnesota Statutes 169A.20) defines a DUI as driving or physically controlling a motor vehicle while under the influence. The statute specifically refers to a motor vehicle as a machine that is “self-propelled” including those moved by combustion engines, electric power and even overhead trolley wires. The law excludes those things that are moved solely through the use of human power or exertion, such as a bicycle.

This means that while Minnesota’s law is not as clear as Montana’s, it seems fairly certain that a horse does not qualify as a self-propelled motor vehicle. Given the lack of a motor, electric or otherwise, it is likely a stretch that a prosecutor would ever try to press drunk driving charges on someone riding a horse. Just because you likely won’t be convicted with a DUI does not mean riding around on a horse drunk is a good idea. After all, you might face other charges such as public intoxication or disorderly conduct, just like Peterson in her 2004 incident.

Source: “Billings woman sent home for riding horse drunk later charged with DUI,” by Greg Tuttle, published at

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