Man Arrested for DUI on a Horse

A man was arrested for DUI on a horse in California…

In South Carolina, you can’t be charged with “drunk driving a horse,” because a horse is not a motor vehicle, and you don’t drive it, you ride it.

In several states, however, you could be charged with DUI on a horse, DUI in a buggy, or DUI if you are just sitting in your car listening to the radio without driving…

Below, we will look at the difference between South Carolina’s DUI (driving under the influence) laws and other state’s impaired driving laws, and why you can be charged with DUI on an animal in some states but not others.

Man Arrested for DUI on a Horse in California

In California, a highway patrol officer noticed a horse rider holding an open container of alcohol. The officer stopped the rider, determined he was intoxicated, took him to jail, and ensured the horse was returned home safely.

In a statement posted on Facebook, the police department noted that, under California Vehicle Code 21050,  the state’s traffic laws apply to anyone “riding or driving an animal upon a highway,” and commended their dedicated officer:

This incident serves as a reminder that impaired riding, even on a horse, poses risks to both the rider and others on the road. We commend Officer Brackett’s dedication to upholding safety standards in all situations,” the agency said in the post. “Let’s continue to prioritize responsible and sober actions on our roadways.

You Cannot be Charged for DUI on a Horse in South Carolina…

South Carolina DUI law does not cover horses or other types of animals – only “motor vehicles” as defined under SC law and only when they are in motion and under the control of the driver (driving under the influence).

If a person is “riding drunk,” they could be charged with a crime, though. If a police officer thinks they are intoxicated, disturbing the peace, or a danger to others, they could charge someone with public disorderly conduct, breach of peace, public intoxication, or other crimes depending on the circumstances.

State v. Graves – What Does the “Driving” in “Driving Under the Influence” Mean?

In South Carolina, SC Code § 56-5-2930 says it is against the law to 1) drive a motor vehicle 2) within this state 3) while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs 4) to the extent the persons’ faculties to drive are materially and appreciably impaired.

First, a horse is not a motor vehicle, and South Carolina does not have an equivalent of California’s 21050 that specifically includes animals within the traffic code.

Second, South Carolina’s DUI law is a “driving” under the influence law – you must be driving to be guilty of DUI.

What does driving mean? In SC, it does not mean riding on a horse. To be driving for purposes of SC’s DUI laws, you must 1) be in a motor vehicle, 2) the motor vehicle must be in motion, and 3) the motor vehicle must be under your control.

For example, in State v. Graves, the SC Supreme Court held that a defendant was not driving when they were found passed out behind the wheel, with the transmission engaged, and the vehicle started moving, but only when the officer asked the defendant to step out of the vehicle.


You’d think that nowhere under any state’s laws would a horse – or any live animal – be subject to DUI laws, but you can be charged with driving under the influence (or some version of DUI) for “driving” a horse in several states (see, e.g., Kentucky man arrested for DUI on a horse, Kentucky man arrested for DUI on a horse and buggy, Tennessee man arrested for riding a horse while drunk, Pennsylvania charges for horse and buggy DUI, Florida woman arrested for DUI on a horse, Georgia woman charged for driving a horse under the influence).

In South Carolina, a person could be charged with:

  • DUI – driving under the influence,
  • DUAC – driving with an unlawful alcohol concentration, or
  • Felony DUI.

These are all offenses that require 1) driving 2) of a motor vehicle. In other states, a person could be charged with another type of offense that doesn’t necessarily require driving and doesn’t necessarily require a motor vehicle, depending on the language of the statute and the state’s appellate opinions interpreting it.

For example:

  • OUI – operating under the influence – Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts,
  • OVUII – operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant – Hawaii,
  • OWI – operating while intoxicated – Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin,
  • OVI – operating a vehicle under the influence – Ohio,
  • OWVI – operating while visually impaired – Michigan, and
  • OWPD – operating with the presence of drugs – Michigan.

As the Court explains in State v. Graves, SC’s legislature chose to enact a law prohibiting driving under the influence, while other states’ legislatures chose to enact laws prohibiting operating under the influence or other variations:

The distinction between these terms is material, for it is generally held that the word “drive”, as used in statutes of this kind, usually denotes movement of the vehicle in some direction, whereas the word “operate” has a broader meaning so as to include not only the motion of the vehicle, but also acts which engage the machinery of the vehicle that, alone or in sequence, will set in motion the motive power of the vehicle. Flournoy v. State, 106 Ga. App. 756, 128 S.E. (2d) 528 (1962), Gallagher v. Commonwealth, 205 Va. 666, 139 S.E. (2d) 37 (1964)…

Of the two terms, “driving” is given the stricter construction, and in numerous cases it has been held that to be guilty of driving a vehicle while intoxicated, the defendant must have had the vehicle in motion at the time in question. While in a few cases the term “operating” has been given a similar limited construction, “operating” has been more liberally construed in other cases to include starting the engine or manipulating the mechanical or electrical agencies of a vehicle (footnotes omitted).

Driving in South Carolina has a very specific meaning – “the defendant must have had [a] vehicle in motion at the time in question,” and does not include riding horses or other animals.

Conway, SC DUI Lawyers

If you have been charged with DUI or DUAC in Myrtle Beach, Conway, or anywhere in the Horry County area, you may have valid defenses to the charge or there may be grounds to get your case dismissed.

Contact DUI Defense Lawyer Johnny Gardner now at (843) 248-7135 for a free consultation to find out how we can help.