Maybe you've seen a horse and rider clopping down Sixth Street. Maybe you've seen one on the side of your neighborhood road. Or maybe you saw this viral tweet over the weekend of a horse tethered to a bike rack at the flagship Whole Foods.


— auston (@auston_carlson)April 5, 2019 

RELATED: Here’s why the Sixth Street Cowboy rides his mule in downtown Austin

And maybe when you saw these unpastured horses, an understandable thought crossed your mind: "Is this even legal?"

The short answer is yes, it is. It's not just a weird Yankee misconception that Texans ride their horses to school -- turns out, you can if you wanted to abandon the comfort of the car to earn some cowboy clout.

“The reason people can ride horses on the street and it’s legal is because they fall under the definition of ‘vehicle’ in the transportation code,” says Cpl. Max Johnson of the Austin Police Department's Horse Mounted Unit in a story from KUT.

In the Texas Transportation Code Section 541.201, a vehicle is defined as "a device that can be used to transport or draw persons or property on a highway" -- no motor required. Scroll all the way to page 2,120 of the code if you'd like to see for yourself.

To get even more specific to Austin, city code designates a person on horseback as a "vulnerable road user" in Section 12.1.35. However, Section 14.1.13 notes that horses are not allowed in city parks. No grazing in Zilker allowed.

The jury is till out on horses in drive thrus -- many have tried, and sometimes succeed.

Basically, if you're ready to saddle up and take your horse out on road, go right ahead. Just follow regular traffic laws.


A reader emailed me this afternoon to shed some more light on the legality of horses on roadways. Steve Rothstein pointed out that the Texas Transportation Code, Section 542.003 says:

"ANIMALS AND ANIMAL-DRAWN VEHICLES.  A person riding an animal on a roadway or operating a vehicle drawn by an animal on a roadway has the rights and duties applicable to the operator of a vehicle under this subtitle, except a right or duty that by its nature cannot apply to a person riding an animal or operating a vehicle drawn by an animal."

As Rothstein explains, "This makes it clear that a horse is not a vehicle (note the riding an animal OR operating a device) but that it is legal to ride on city streets. Actually, it applies to any animal you ride not just horses, but camels and elephants are not quite as cowboy image as horses for Texas."

Supporting this, the code's section on traffic, Section 541.301 defines traffic as "pedestrians, ridden or herded animals, and conveyances, including vehicles and streetcars, singly or together while using a highway for the purposes of travel." Ridden animals are differentiated again from vehicles.

The answer remains yes, you can ride your horse in downtown Austin. But is a horse a vehicle? Debate this at your dinner table tonight.

Is there something you want to know about Austin? Ask below: