Last week, at 3 p.m. on November 2nd, a woman was reported riding a horse down a busy highway 35 miles east of Tampa, Florida. Donna Byrne, 53, appeared confused and possibly in danger, smelling of alcohol. Once she dismounted, Byrne staggered side to side. According to a spokesman from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Byrne had ridden the horse about ten miles.
Byrne is facing charges for driving under the influence while operating a vehicle. In this situation, the vehicle is her horse. She’s also being charged for neglecting her animal and endangering it on the freeway.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office stated that this case may be the first horse DUI case in the county’s history. Whether a person on horseback is charged with a DUI or DWI depends on the states’ laws. In California, for example, an appellate court ruled that people riding animals on the highway must follow the same laws as people driving cars in the case People vs. Fong in 1993. In Montana, though, riding a horse while intoxicated does not count as a DUI. According to their state law, a DUI can only be charged for an intoxicated individual operating a vehicle that is not animal-powered.
In Byrne’s case, Florida law considers people riding animals on roadways to be pedestrians, so they are not held accountable to the same laws as automobile drivers. Thomas Grajek, a Tampa attorney specializing in DUI cases, believes that Byrne will end up facing a disorderly conduct charge, like a publicly inebriated pedestrian would. The arresting officer believed he had sufficient probable cause to define the horse as a vehicle, considering that anyone in a car on the highway who hit the horse would be in danger, along with Byrne herself.