A recent question that was posed to me was "Where can a horse legally ride on the road, and what restrictions are related to that?"

Not being a cowboy myself, I had to dig into this question.

Before the popularity of automobiles in the 20th century, seeing someone riding a horse on the road, or seeing a horse-drawn buggy on the road was fairly common. To this day, you still see horse-drawn buggies within the Amish populated areas of the county.

In this edition of the "Sheriff's Corner," I address horse riding laws on the roadway and in other places.

ROADS AND HORSES

Let's start with what the law says.

MCL 257.604 states:

"A person riding an animal or driving an animal-drawn vehicle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all the duties, criminal penalties, and civil sanctions applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this chapter, except those provisions of this chapter which by their very nature may not have application."

In simple terms, ridden horses and horse-drawn carriages (or buggies) are allowed on Michigan roads, with the same rights and responsibilities. There is no age limit, so people of any age may legally ride a horse on a roadway.

The horse rider would still have the same requirements as in driving a motor vehicle such as obeying the speed limit, stopping at stop signs and the use of hand signals when turning.

HORSE DRAWN BUGGY

A buggy that is attached to a horse on the roadway, is also considered a vehicle and must obey the laws as they apply to horses operating as a vehicle.

MCL 257.79 states:

"Vehicle means every device in, upon, or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, except devices exclusively moved by human power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks..."

While also considered a slow moving vehicle, a horse-drawn buggy should be equipped with the same orange triangle as in other slow moving vehicles.

For reference, the slow-moving orange triangle sign is required when:

• Vehicle being operated on the highway or roadway that has a maximum potential speed of 25 miles an hour.

• Implement of husbandry (equipment used in farming)

• Farm tractor

• Special mobile equipment

(NOTE: This is not applicable to ORV's while traveling on approved public roads open to ORV's. Nor do you need to buy a trail sticker and stick it on the horse's butt.)

OBSTRUCTING TRAFFIC

Keep in mind that even though they are allowed on the roadway, it does not mean they can disrupt the normal flow of traffic.

MCL 257.676(b) states:

"A person, without authority, shall not block, obstruct, impede, or otherwise interfere with the normal flow of vehicular or pedestrian traffic upon a public street or highway in this state, by means of a barricade, object, or device, or with his or her person."

So, in general if there is a line of traffic behind the buggy, the driver might be guilty of a civil infraction. For example, a wagon train of horses would need to consider moving and stopping on the shoulder if a line of traffic started to form behind them. I think it would be rare to ever cite anyone for this, but it is a possibility within the law.

MIXED TRAFFIC ORV ROUTES

These routes accommodate both ORV's and regular motor vehicles, but also allow for the traveling of horse traffic as well. A mixed ORV, is basically a route that handles pretty much anything as a road would, but adds ORV's to permissible purposes.

With that being said, since a horse is allowed on the road, it would also be allowed on the ORV route. However, common sense would dictate that you probably do not want to ride your horse on an ORV route during a weekend or busy holiday.

PROHIBITIONS

Now remember not to confuse ORV routes with open state land and campgrounds.

DNR Administrative Rule 299.927(l) States:

"... In state parks, recreation areas, forest campgrounds, and pathway trailheads, it is unlawful to do any of the following:...(I) Ride or allow a horse or other pack and saddle animal in any area, except for a designated equestrian trail or equestrian campground, or when in compliance with a permit issued for a field dog trial."

Furthermore, It is unlawful to ride or lead a horse, saddled or pack animal, other riding animal, or any animal-driven vehicle on any state land, except on: roads open to motor vehicles; on DNR designated horse/animal trails or bridle paths; in designated campgrounds for animal use; and/or on any state forest land not posted closed to such use or such entry.

HELPFUL TIPS

Some safety tips for horse riders on the road:

• Always ride your horse in the same direction as traffic.

• Stay as close to the shoulder of the road as possible.

• Since there is no legal age limit for riding a horse on the roadway, novice riders should never go on roads without a more experienced companion or an adult who is accustomed to riding in that area.

• If there is more than one horse, ride single-file rather than two abreast. If riding abreast, always put the more experienced horse on the side closest to traffic.

• Do not ride at dawn, dusk, or at night if at all possible.

• If you need to cross the road, wait for a comfortable gap in traffic and signal your intentions clearly to any vehicle that might be in the vicinity.

• If your horse is agitated, dismount and walk it, to avoid being potentially thrown from the horse and causing an additional accident.

Safety tips for motorists when approaching horses:

• Slow down if you see someone on a horse; wait to see if the rider is comfortably in control of the animal before passing.

• Watch for signals of stopping or turning.

• Pass slowly and give the animal or buggy enough room to be comfortable as your vehicle passes.

This information is provided to you for clarification of specific laws and not legal advice. This is not to be construed as a personal opinion, agreement or disagreement of any specific law. If you have any questions on any specific topic, you can always email me your questions to rmartin@co.lake.mi.us.