Equine Law: Considerations Before Starting an Equine Therapy Program

Here are some suggestions from a legal standpoint!
Flickr/Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office/CC

Flickr/Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office/CC

A client recently asked what, if any, licenses or permits they needed to bring their therapy horses to an event. After some research and several phone calls to government agencies, I was able to answer my client’s question: if they are sponsoring the event, they need to obtain licenses or permits to comply with local regulations, but if they are merely participating, then chances are that the organization sponsoring the event is responsible for those details and my clients just need to show up and be adorable (they’re miniature horses).

This is just one example of the many questions that pop up when running an equine therapy program. In a time where equine-based therapy is getting more attention, it’s important to think about the legal requirements for getting started. Here are a few things to consider:

  • What type of organization will your program be? A therapy program is like any other business: you have to choose a form of entity, such as a corporation, a limited liability company, and so on.
  • Will you operate for profit, or as a non-profit? Most therapy programs today operate as non-profits, commonly called 501(c)(3)s. If you choose to operate as a 501(c)(3), make sure you know how to qualify for that status and how to stay there.
  • Will you operate on your own or under another “umbrella” organization? These days it’s possible to find another organization to hang your banner under. For example, United Charitable provides management of charitable organizations, allowing the organizations to focus on their mission while United focuses on the administrative side.
  • What kinds of business licenses will you need? This will vary by state, but generally you will need to register with the Secretary of State and obtain a business license. If you have decided to form a corporation, you will also need articles of incorporation and other formal business documents.
  • What kinds of certifications will be beneficial? Think about who you want to reach out to, and then look into what organizations certify therapy programs in that demographic. A great place to start is PATH, International.
  • What other professionals will you need? Of course, you will want an equine/business lawyer to help you form your organization and draft the necessary liability releases and other contracts. You might also consult a CPA for tax advice, and you definitely want to talk to an insurance agent who specializes in equine businesses and organizations.

If you are thinking of starting an equine therapy program, that’s great! Just make sure that you do everything right when getting started, so you can focus on your true passion: helping people find strength and independence through horses.

For more of Kjirsten’s articles on equine law, click the #EQUINE LAW hashtag at the top of this page, or click here to open a list.

Kjirsten Lee, J.D., is an equine attorney with rb LEGAL, LLC, in Golden Valley, MN. She has written on topics such as the Horse Protection Act and use of drugs in racehorses, as well as general legal issues that horse people may encounter. You can follow her on Twitter at @KMLee_Esq. Kjirsten and her OTTB, Gobain, compete in dressage and eventing.

Disclaimer: Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is created by reading and/or commenting on this post. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.

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