In the days before automobiles, lawyers and judges still had to make a living. With no one yet spilling hot coffee in their laps while going through a drive-thru, a series of laws limiting the behavior of horses and their riders ended up on the books in almost every state. Here’s a look at many of the often-hilarious old-timey horse laws that still exist and how they got there in the first place.
1. Cars, Pedestrians and Others Must Not Spook Horses
Protecting your equine companion is paramount, but some states have extreme laws in this regard. Many of these made the books after a lone incident inspired some sort of community action to protect horses and riders.
- Opening and closing umbrellas near a horse is illegal in New York City. Sadly, this law seems all too relevant.
- Taking photos of horses on Sundays in McAllen, Texas, can get you up to 3 days in jail for disturbing the animal.
- In Pattonsburg, Missouri: “No person shall hallo, shout, bawl, scream, use profane language, dance, sing, whoop, quarrel, or make any unusual noise or sound in such manner as to disturb a horse,” according to ordinances last revised in 1884.
- Las Vegas is a no-vehicle zone. Only horses are allowed within the city per an old law still on the books. The criminal justice program at the University of Cincinnati notes that the law was put in place so that vehicles wouldn’t spook the horses.
- Pennsylvania state law says that: “Any motorist who sights a team of horses coming toward him must pull well off the road, cover his car with a blanket or canvas that blends with the countryside, and let the horses pass. If the horses appear skittish, the motorist must take his car apart, piece by piece, and hide it under the nearest bushes.”
2. Some Things Are Illegal When Done From Horseback
Some of the strangest laws were also inspired by lone incidents. In these cases, the laws apply only to riders of horses. Often, these things are legal as long as you don’t do them from astride a horse.
- Fishing from horseback is illegal in many places, including: Colorado, Utah and Washington, D.C.
- Tennessee prohibits lassoing fish from horseback.
- In Cotton Valley, Louisiana, men can’t eat ice cream while riding a horse.
- Raton, New Mexico, prohibits women wearing kimonos from riding horses on public streets.
- Married men can’t ride alone unless they’ve been married at least a full year in Kearney, Nebraska. They also can’t ride on Sundays at all in Wakefield, Rhode Island.
- Only married women are allowed to ride to church on Sunday under laws in Bluff, Utah. Unmarried, divorced or widowed women doing so may be incarcerated.
3. Horses in Some Areas Must Always Dress Appropriately
Tack and training laws protect riders and others from potential hazards. Some places have taken these to the extreme in the past, however.
- Rasario, Argentina requires horses to wear hats when it’s hot outside.
- Fountain Inn, South Carolina, requires horses to wear pants inside city limits.
- Charleston, South Carolina, also requires horses to wear diapers in public areas.
4. They Also Need to Look Their Best at All Times
Fashion sense aside, there are different rules for graceful or elegant steeds and “ugly” horses in some parts of the nation. These seem to have sprung from citizens attempting to address owners mistreating their animals, though what constitutes “ugly” isn’t always clear.
- Riding an ugly horse in Hartsville, Illinois, can result in jail time.
- Wilbur, Washington, imposes a $300 fine for riding an ugly horse.
5. Sometimes Horses Must Not Spook Others
Many of the silliest laws on the books purport to protect the community from horses and their riders. These often comical examples still have real-world legal power, and each likely stems from a judge, lawyer or city official offended in some strange way by equine antics.
- Horses must pay admission to enter taverns in Burns, Oregon.
- Horses can’t mate within 500 yards of a tavern, school or church in California.
- Horses may not neigh near inhabited homes before 6 a.m. in Pine Bluff, South Dakota.
- Pocataligo, Georgia, prohibits neighing after 10 p.m.
So keep these laws in mind the next time you might feel a touch of rider road rage. Then call the local constabulary and ask that the offender be made to dismantle his vehicle. Offer proof that your valiant steed hasn’t recently eaten any fire hydrants in Marshalltown, Iowa, and is wearing the latest fashion trends to make sure you’re legally in the clear. If you do get in trouble, remember that an attorney practicing in Corvallis, Oregon, can be disbarred if he refuses to accept a horse as payment!