LONE GROVE— Located just north of Lone Grove High School, Hill Top Equine Therapy uses a new approach to helping children with special needs.
Starting back in 2014, Hill Top Equine Therapy founder Dan Corr has been using his love of horses to help out his other passion, children.
Originally from Montana, Corr moved to southern Oklahoma 22 years ago with a passion to help children in need. Corr uses his horses to help kids with disabilities strengthen their core muscles, legs and neck as well as develop muscle control.
Seeing the kids smile is what brings joy to Corr’s life.
“I don’t like saying special needs or disabilities, because they are all extraordinary in their own way,” Corr said. “I have seen some things that parents had not seen in their children, simple things like reaching for something or showing expression or emotion. A lot of people get therapy through touching the animals.”
Corr holds classes five days a week, teaching roughly 20 children a week. Depending on the child, Corr sets up routines for the kids and the horse, like going through a maze or riding in circles, with each activity holding a different meaning towards their development.
Three of Corr’s students come from Mannsville and are brought in by special education teacher Jackie Gill.
Gill, like Corr, grew up around horses, and was looking for a way to teach her students new things when she discovered Hilltop.
“I called Dan and he said ‘lets make something happen,’” Gill said. “So we brought them out and it was amazing. We got some funding from the Autism Foundation and they funded us for a year and it was fabulous.”
Gill started bringing her students to Hilltop in 2017, but the program lost funding, and was not able to return until earlier this year when they regained funding.
Gill brings three students with her, fourth grader Nicholas Watson, third grader Ryan Hilliker and sixth grader Gage Williams. Williams and Hilliker both have autism, while Watson has septo-optic dysplasia which hinders the development of vision and growth.
Since returning to Hilltop, increased development has started to take place with the three children.
“None of the boys are verbal, they are all nonverbal kiddos,” Gill said. “Ryan has only recently started making requests as far as what he wants to eat, or sometimes things that he wants. This was the first time I think he has requested that he wanted to do something. He walked up to a horse and reached up and wanted to get on Teddy (the horse).”
Hill Top will hold its fifth annual fundraiser on May 11, with an entry fee of $20.
With the help of donations, Corr will be able to continue to help the children grow and develop.
“I write this in stone — every one of these kids can learn at some level,” Corr said. “They so often get pushed away, partly because they don’t think they can learn or they think it is easier to do it for them. They are required to do everything they can physically and mentally manage. We don’t disable here.”