Join Date: Nov 2013
Location: Houston area, Texas
Congratulations on a wonderful undertaking!
I am currently going through this process as I open up my simulator and facility to veterans (I spent some time in Afghanistan and am from a military family, so this is a deeply personal project).
First step - you need to become a recognized non-profit both in your state and federally. You can do business as a non-profit without federal recognition, I.e. 501 status, but donations are not tax-exempt so it will severely hamper donations; without 501 exemption you are also ineligible for government-offered grants.
Establishing a non-profit corporation in your state is easy, requires a few forms and a small deposit. The federal process, however, is a 50-page application that can take up to 6 months to be processed once it even reaches the IRS. Follow-up calls and questions are common, so to be blunt, you absolutely need a lawyer to manage this process for you, or be available to consult. The good news is that pro bono representation may be easier than you think to obtain, so start asking around!
The IRS requires 3 people to sit on a Board of Directors, and 2 additional folks to serve as officers - you need a President and a Secretary, and they cannot be the same person. Technically you also need a Treasurer, but your President can double as the Treasurer.
The other big cog in the wheel is insurance. Because my operation is the only of it's kind in North America, Markel is literally the ONLY carrier who would insure me. For traditional therapeutic riding programs, many carriers will only insure PATH-accredited facilities, or make non-PATH insurance so expensive as to be prohibitive. Make insurance calls early, because what you can and cannot find insurance for may dictate the shape of your operation.
As you start determining whether you can afford to open and operate a non-profit riding program, remember that your facility will have to meet ADA standards, and everything is expensive. Depending on the size of your operation, you need to research costs for equipment purchase (ramps, hand rails, specialized tack and saddles large enough for limited range of motion, etc.), equipment maintenance, adapting facilities you already have (such as making restrooms accessible and leveling uneven ground), licensing fees, barn hands, instructors, volunteer training, office and administrative supplies, and so on.
The bottom line with the above is research, and start moving on the administrative side of the house immediately. While you wait for your 501, research, research, research! Do not take out a loan - open a smaller or more limited program if you have to - and seek out donors and grants once your 501 is in hand.
Hope this helpful, and good luck! This is a truly rewarding line of work, and I am thrilled you are diving in, as I know your community and future riders will be, too :)
Jan Shultis xenahorse.com
Know yourself. Know your horse. Ride with joy.