Posted January 31, 2001

by Tracy Dowson

Now that I have to sit down and write about starting a horse council for CoHoCo's executive director, Libby Graham, I realize that I have probably leanred more in the past four years working with our county horse council that I learned in college.

The first bit of advice that I would like to pass along to you is: understand the importance of having and belonging to a horse council. Together we have the power to shape the very important governmental policies that direct how we live with and enjoy our horses. We keep each other informed and provide moral support.

The organizational structure of our horse councils should follow the structure of our government. First a national organization, the American Horse Council, then a state horse council, followed by a county horse council with city-watch subcommittees. It is important that every horse owner belong to each council. Owning horses is one of the most labor intensive interests that I know of and I no longer accept the excuses that people are "too busy". If you value your ability to own and enjoy horses, you will find the time to at least be informed and contribute what you can, when you can. You live in a democratic society and you will have to get your hands a little dirty in politics from time to time. It's like cleaning stalls, sometimes you just have to do it.

It is extremely important that each council have a structure in which each person's view can be heard and after all of the facts have been presented, council members need to agree to support whatever the majority favors. Remembering each council is charged with protecting the common good of all horse owners. We need to agree to disagree and still hang together. This is the most fundamental aspect of living in this country. Your elected officials must hear one voice from the horse community or you will lose credibility. Fringe groups are detrimental.

Don't let the details derail you. If you are in the process of starting a horse council, don't worry too much about the exact workings of your bylaws. Yet, it is a very important document, but I've seen people completey drop the information of a very important group, just because they bogged down in the details. You can make changes as you learn and grown as an organization.

Gather interested people using the media to alert interested horse owners of meetings or events and keep the ball rolling. Gathering and maintaining members is a primary activity of any organization.

Let people do whay they do best. Just as you wouldn't ask your western horse to trot with his knees up under his nose, don't ask people to do what they are uncomfortable with. Some people are just naturally better leaders, some follow and there's bound to be someone who can work on those pesky details.

Some important pesky details follow:

1. Define your objective: develop a statement of purpose and/or mission statement.

2. Limit your scope, i.e., have a specific list of what you do not want to be involved.

3. Develop bylaws: since this topic is so large, specific details of each item will be covered in a future issue of WHR.
a. Define membership
b. Define offices and officers
c. Specify meetings
d. Voting
e. Board of directors
f. Committees g. Contracts, checks, deposits and funds
h. Certificates of membership
i. Books and records
j. Fiscal year
k. Dues
l. Wave of notice
m. Amendment to the bylaws
n. Advisory board

4. Agendas

5. Minutes

6. Newsletters or communications

7. Social aspect

8. Community involvement

9. Background, correspondence and history

10. Membership recruitment; surveying the needs of the membership; why people join and what they expect

11. Leadership responsibilities and styles

12. Motivating members

13. Filing 501(c)(3) not for profit papers

Because time and space are at a premium a detailed account of what these bylaw topics should include will be int he next column.

Tracy Dowson is an author, speaker, business owner and an advocate for the horse industry. For a free catalog of software, books and other business products call 800-279-2001, ext. 209.