Take a Ride Back to 2000 for the Infamous ‘Horse Incident’ Involving Tim McGraw & Kenny Chesney

by Jim Casey

On June 3, 2000, the “Horse Incident” landed Kenny Chesney, 32, and Tim McGraw, 33, in jail in Buffalo, New York. The longtime friends faced a slew of pretty serious charges, but they were completely exonerated by a jury 11 months later.

Whoa, horsey, what a ride it was. Let’s rewind back to 2000. Because this story is infamous. Of course, fans of the Three Amigos know exactly what “infamous” means.

‘Facts’ of the Matter

On June 3, 2000, Buffalo played host to the George Strait Country Music Festival at Ralph Wilson Stadium (home of the Buffalo Bills). The lineup included Tim, Kenny, George Strait, Martina McBride, Lee Ann Womack, and more.

Now, the “facts” of this story depend on who you believe: Kenny and Tim or the Erie County Sheriff’s Office. For the sake of a lengthy they-said-they-said discussion, here is my take.

First, keep in mind that by 2000, Tim McGraw was a bonafide superstar. Tim had topped the charts with a handful of albums and scored 11 No. 1 hits. Tim and Faith Hill married in 1996 to form country music’s power couple. Tim was a country music stud, excuse the horse reference, but there will be more. Kenny, on the other hand, had not reached the superstar stratosphere. While he was certainly on his way, Kenny wasn’t on Tim’s fame level, yet.

Innocent Horseplay?

In the backstage area of the stadium, where the tour buses were corralled, Kenny received permission to “sit” on a police horse. This is not disputed by either side. But here’s where things got muddled.

Kenny started riding the equine toward his pals. The sheriff’s deputies claimed they told Kenny to stop. Kenny did not. Two officers hopped in car and took off after Kenny. The officers exited the car and forcibly removed Kenny from the horse. When Tim saw Kenny in distress, he and tour manager Mark Russo got “involved.”

Kenny, Tim, and Mark were arrested. Officers claimed Tim put one of them in a headlock and choked the officer. Kenny was cited for disorderly conduct and posted a $100 bail.

Now, this is where it got serious: Tim was charged with second-degree assault, menacing, resisting arrest, and obstructing governmental administration. Tim posted a $2,500 bail. Mark faced similar charges, minus the assault. Of course, the “Horse Incident” made the cover of the New York Post, as well as being picked up by Us Weekly, People, and additional outlets.

If the Saddle Fit, You Must Acquit Tim & Kenny

No publicity is bad publicity. On June 12, spurred on by the hullabaloo, Kenny made his first appearance on The Tonight Show—riding a horse, no less. Understandably, Kenny took a much more cavalier approach than Tim, who hardly addressed the situation. However, Tim was facing much more serious charges.

The “Horse Incident” dragged on for 11 months. In addition, Kenny and Tim refused to admit any wrongdoing in exchange for reduced charges. In fact, if convicted of all charges, Tim faced up to one year in prison. Instead, Tim and Kenny (and Mark) went to trial in Buffalo in May 2001, where they both took the stand. Tim admitted to pushing an officer but denied grabbing him by the neck.

The judge instructed the jury to acquit if they believe Tim was reasonably justified in pushing the officer.

After two hours of deliberation, the jury returned with a “not guilty” verdict on all charges. The courtroom crowd erupted in applause. Tim and Kenny hugged, while Faith Hill wiped away tears.

Here we are 21 years later. Both Kenny Chesney (No. 13) and Tim McGraw (No. 9) are Top 20 Best-Selling Country Artists of All Time. And we can all have a good neigh laugh.