Growth, usually good for business, has challenged Hold Your Horses, which offers equine-assisted therapy services at a private farm in Independence.
Generating revenue was a struggle from the start, said Janet Weisberg, who launched Hold Your Horses in 2006 to offer occupational therapy and physical therapy to children with disabilities. Treatment sessions take place while clients are on horseback in a model known as hippotherapy.
Weisberg set market-rate prices but adopted a sliding fee scale. That’s because many families lack adequate insurance coverage for mainstream treatment or their coverage didn’t apply to specialized therapy, she said.
Hold Your Horses benefited from a rent subsidy from the farm’s owner, who traded use of the property for services for a family member and also helped with some horse-related expenses. The service had a growing number of clients, but making ends meet was difficult, Weisberg said.
“Growth means more cost,” said Weisberg, an occupational therapist who is board-certified in hippotherapy. “That’s the challenge of running a business like this, knowing that growth doesn’t necessary mean dollars coming in. It might even mean dollars going out.”
Weisberg, who had established Hold Your Horses as a limited liability corporation, realized that she was operating something more like a charitable entity, particularly in light of the sliding fees. So in 2011, she set about converting her company to a nonprofit organization. She got her 501(c)(3) nonprofit status from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service in about seven months and her Minnesota sales-tax exemption in about 18 months.
“I’ve ridden a fast-moving, bucking horse before … and that was sort of a similar ride,” said Weisberg, referring mainly to the flurry of forms. “It was a big learning curve.”
Positioned for stability
The effort has been worthwhile because it has positioned Hold Your Horses for long-term stability, Weisberg said. With contributions coming in, she’s able to offer sliding fees more freely “and not be worried about whether the horses were going to eat or whether I could pay staff.”
Hold Your Horses took in $165,000 in fees, contributions and grants in 2012, Weisberg said. The organization has four employees and six horses, and Weisberg is anticipating hiring two to three more employees. She also recently received a grant to add another horse.
Individual fundraising has gone well, Weisberg said. She’s working on how to approach fundraising on a larger scale and to transfer that activity to a board or development committee, so she can focus on treating clients. Hold Your Horses will host a fundraising event Oct. 6, featuring a cowboy singer, a trick roper and a petting zoo.
Weisberg was working in public relations and marketing in the early 1990s in New York City when she stopped by a Manhattan stable. She saw a woman leading a group of disabled children on horseback.
It was profoundly moving, Weisberg said, tapping into her lifelong passion for horses and her interest in working with disabled children. She quit her job, got a master’s degree in occupational therapy from Rush University in Chicago and worked in other practices before starting Hold Your Horses.
Hippotherapy has helped children with cerebral palsy, autism, traumatic brain injury, sensory integration disorders, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis and spinal muscular atrophy, according to Weisberg. Other clients have had rare genetic disorders, development delays and anxiety. Benefits include postural stability, head control, visual gaze, respiration, greater attention to task and improved endurance and strength, Weisberg said.
Stephanie Dailey said her 8-year-old daughter Jenna, who has a rare birth defect, gained core strength through occupational therapy sessions at Hold Your Horses.
“She’s doing pretty much everything she did in the traditional occupational therapy setting — motor planning-type activities, working on controlling her body and her motor skills,” Dailey said. “But because she’s on a horse when she’s doing it, it doesn’t feel like work to her. They’re able to accomplish so much more with her because she’s on a horse.”
The expert says: Dileep Rao, president of InterFinance Corp. in Golden Valley and clinical professor of entrepreneurship at Florida International University, said converting to a nonprofit was smart, opening up funding from donors, foundations and government agencies for causes — children and horses — with broad appeal.
“Since the firm wanted to offer benefits regardless of the ability to pay, forming a nonprofit allowed Ms. Weisberg to seek alternative funding sources,” Rao said. “People perceive nonprofits differently and are often willing to help especially when the service has an emotional pull.”
Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org