California Motor Vehicle Code 21050
Riding an Animal on a Public Highway
This statute most often applies to equestrian riders and drivers of horse-drawn vehicles, although it may also pertain to llamas, goats, cattle or any other animal that can be ridden on the streets. This code is written for "highway" riding, but the law applies to any and all public roadways.
The California Vehicle Code 360 defines a "highway" as any roadway that is "publicly maintained and open to the public for the purposes of vehicular travel." Many people think of highways as interstates and major roadways, but for the purposes of this code section a highway is any paved or non-paved public right-of-way. The law pertains to all of the public right of way from fence to fence, including ditches and grassy area, not just the paved portions on which motorized vehicles travel.
Following the Rules of the Road
While riding your animal on the highway, you are subject to the same rules as drivers in automobiles. You must behave in a way that is safe for you, your animal and those sharing the roadway with you. This means you must signal all turns and stops, ride with the flow of traffic (in the same direction) and obey stop signs and traffic signals. Failure to do so could result in a traffic ticket for you.
You are also required to ride your animal at a reasonably safe speed and not ride in a reckless manner. For example, if the speed limit on the roadway is 55 miles per hour, you cannot ride your horse in a travel lane at a pace of only 25 miles per hour. The same applies in reverse, whereas you cannot gallop your horse at speeds of 35 miles per hour on a roadway where the speed limit is only 20 miles per hour. Remember the old motto of "safety first" when riding on the roadway and you should have no worries.
An easily spooked animal could be considered reckless if ridden on a public street. You must maintain control of your animal at all times. If something spooks your horse, and it darts into traffic, you will most likely be held responsible for any damage caused by the animal. Anyone riding an animal on the highway can be charged with reckless operations just as they would if they were operating an automobile.
Safety and Common Sense are Requirements
Keep in mind that your animal is treated the same as a vehicle under California traffic laws. In addition to signaling and operating in a reasonable manner, you will also have to illuminate the animal after dark. This is to keep everyone involved safe during hours when visibility is poor. Just as it would be illegal to drive after dark without lights, it is also illegal to ride an animal on the streets after dark without some form of lighting. This is for the safety of the rider, the animal, and drivers of other vehicles sharing the road with the riders. If your horse cannot be seen, then you are just inviting a possible tragedy.
Drinking while riding your horse can also get you into trouble. If you ride your horse in an impaired state, it poses risks to everyone around you. It is possible to be charged with a DUI while riding your horse on a public street. The laws are meant to keep people safe, and if you are riding your horse in an intoxicated state, then you are not being safe and will receive some form of punishment. At the very least, you can be charged with public intoxication.
Riding your animal on the highway can be done safely and legally. All you need to do is remember that your horse is treated the same as a car when it is on a public street. If you obey all the traffic laws just as you would in a motorized vehicle, then you should have no worries when riding with your best four-legged friend.