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The Amazing Lily-Movie Star Mule

Independent low budget films are slowly becoming the future of entertainment. With more and more new technology constantly being released, and easy access to online distribution, it's become easier and more affordable than ever for just about anyone to be a filmmaker. But as always, producing a film costs time and money, and the less money you have, the more time you must spend. So there's a lot of rules most independent film producers try to follow while making a feature film to help save resources. DON'T do period pieces. DON'T shoot at night. DON'T shoot with kids. DON'T shoot with animals. One local production team said, "Challenge Accepted!" And set out to break every rule in the book.

Motion Dog Films, a small local independent film company, has been making some major waves over the last few years. Currently in production on their latest feature film, they have been working hard to find locations, crew, and an amazing cast all right here in our area.

She truly is movie star material.

After casting two local middle school girls, Abigail and Bella Stelling, in supporting roles for The Spring, Motion Dog Films set out to find their animal co-stars. The big scene called for a horse and a mule. And while well trained horses aren't too hard to find in these parts, locating a trained and cooperative mule proved to be quite difficult indeed. With the help of the City of Perryville and the wonderful community in the surrounding area, Motion Dog found exactly what they'd been looking for...a mule with star quality!

Meet Lily the Mule

Lily, a beautiful white molly mule, is the newest cast member in an independent feature film being shot in Perryville, Missouri by local independent film company Motion Dog Films. With the help of her trainers, Varina Luttrell and Krystal Evans, Lily worked hard to prepare for and deliver the performance of a lifetime. She truly is movie star material. But that's not the only new job she has...

Multiple full dress rehearsals were had and countless hours at the barn was spent to teach Lily how to stay and be stubborn after years of learning to go with the most subtle commands.

When the Motion Dog producers connected with Lily's new owners, they discovered that she has a very important job already. She is in fact a therapist...of sorts.

Equine assisted therapy, or riding therapy, uses the activity of riding and bonding with equestrian friends (horses, ponies, mules, etc…) to help treat and/or manage different mental and physical disabilities. This therapeutic activity has improved the lives of countless people since it was popularized less than a decade ago. It’s becoming so widely used across the country that new places are popping up all the time. In fact there's multiple right here in the 573 area. Today we took a trip out to Mississippi Valley Therapeutic Horsemanship, to find out more about Lily and riding therapy, and ended up falling in love along the way.

Upon meeting Lily, there’s an instant connection. She exudes love, patience, and a gentle nature. Adoring being adored, Lily relishes in the attention given to her. She often will move in closer to you as you pet her soft muzzle or scratch around her ears or shoulders. This was how we discovered her extremely fitting birthmark on her right side during our visit. A faint pink heart graces Lily’s shoulder. Between this and her kind nature, she has earned the nickname Lily the Lovey.

Lily the Lovey wears her heart on her sleeve! -Varina

We spoke to some of Lily’s new care-takers and handlers to find out more about Lily, the MVTH organization, and their involvement in the production of the feature film, The Spring.

The Teacher - Krystal

Lessons instructor, homeschooling mom, and official horse handler on the set of the feature film, The Spring, Krystal joined production back in February when her horse, Drew, was offered a role in the film. After hearing about Motion Dog's need for a mule as well, Krystal introduced the producers to Mississippi Valley Therapeutic Horsemanship and her pal Varina, the new care-taker of Lily the Lovey.

573: Tell us about yourself.

My name is Krystal Evans. I’m married with two children, Dillion 13 and Derrick 11. I’ve been on horses all my life. I never dreamed I would be an instructor, much less a therapeutic riding instructor. I’ve been working with horses as a profession for darn near 20 years.

I was born and raised in Perry County. I lived here all my life and my family’s from here. Both my husband and I are from this area. I am currently dabbling in barrel racing again. I hadn’t done that since high school, which was 25 years. I’ve always enjoyed training horses and I’m really enjoying the lessons.

It is a whole other level of equestrian therapy and it is awesome to experience.

My new found love is psychotherapy with horses. In psychotherapy with horses we use EAGALA which is Equine Assisted Growth And Learning Association. We use horses as a modality in therapy. It’s not your traditional talk therapy, it’s using the horses to help tell the story of our client. It takes a team approach. It takes an equine specialist, which is myself, and a mental health specialist. I have a facility in Perryville that I do that with, Evans Equestrians. We are going to be reaching out and opening services here with Mississippi Valley doing EAGALA. Not just the riding lessons. It is a whole other level of equestrian therapy and it is awesome to experience. It’s hard to describe, you really just have to experience it for yourself.

573: Tell us about teaching at MVTH.

I’ve been here for about a year. I taught in another facility until the lockdowns began. Covid was actually a good thing for me, because I realized I had a family and I wanted to enjoy spending time with them. So I left my position at the other place and took about a year off from teaching at a major facility. After that I opened my own business and then Varina asked me to join this team and I said yes. I really love this team, so I imagine I will be here for quite a long time. A year is just the beginning!

573: Tell us about the riders you teach.

Today we had a whole slew of riders from a teenager to an older gentleman. A wide variety of riders. The older gentleman is a stroke victim and he rides for strength. He has rode for many years and does very well. We have clients with autism, cerebral palsy, a little bit of everything I guess. We really work on core and balance and just taking time to process.

I’m all about having fun if we’re safe. We can have fun as long as we have safety in the mix. Fun is what we want though. If it's all work then what’s the point of doing it? I think the horse is there to make life so much easier and so much happier. To be around them, they just bring out the best in you. Great stuff that you never even knew was there.

573: What’s it like being part of a feature film?

Working on a feature film…I'd compare it to doing horse shows. You hurry up and wait. You get ready, and you hurry up, and you wait. Over and over. It is a lot of fun though. Working on a feature film is something that I never thought I would do in my lifetime. It’s neat being able to be part of that production and actually say, "Well, this is something!" There’s certain things that horse people tend to pick up on that others don't when watching shows with horses. I don’t watch movies or TV shows with horses a lot because I’m always picking them apart. I’m hoping I can help with this one by doing it justice.

573: Tell us about Drew...

The Co-star - Drew

I have had Drew...I guess it will be 10 years in May. A gentleman was getting out of horses. I had four of them gifted to me whenever I started riding. I never dreamed he would be used as a lesson horse. He is one of my main lesson horses now. He has been trained on barrels, but enjoys going slow with the kids, and has become one of the most trusted animals that I know. I know him inside and out. Like all horses, he has his quirks, but once you know the quirks of a horse, you know how to work with a horse and he is just a phenomenal animal. He’ll be 20 years old this year so I’ve had him for all of his teens.

The Volunteer - Betsy

Betsy Rigdon officially joined MVTH in 2003. Starting out as a volunteer, she eventually found herself on the board of directors. Wholeheartedly in love with the organization and all that it does, Betsy still volunteers on a regular basis and can often be found in the barn. With her own stables and property next door, she joined Motion Dog's production team by providing the location for Lily's big scene.

573: Tell us about volunteering at MVTH.

It’s just been a great thing in my life to get to be a part of this. It’s just such a miracle. It is amazing what it does for people and it’s also made my appreciation for horses take a whole new chapter. I came from the riding world and not from the therapy world. Not that we are therapists, we’re not, but the benefit from riding the horse is just amazingly therapeutic. When you come week after week, you see your riders improve and you see the smile on their faces. It does so much for the physical health, for the mental health, for so many people. If you think about some of the children and adults who are restricted in their movement in a wheelchair or just even on crutches or whatever, when they are on a horse they are tall and straight and in charge. They get to walk across the arena on their own power and it does something for them. You can see the difference too. Many of them, especially those in wheelchairs, will often start out very hunched over, almost leaning down on the horse. But after just moments of riding, they're sitting up straighter, looking stronger, and smiling. It is so wonderful to get to see that.

We’ve had so many parents and care-takers comment about how it not only helps physically, but it helps them in school and helps them with peers and helps them in every aspect of their life. It gives them self-confidence and it’s just amazing. If you have a fearful person, we’re very careful with fearful people because that’s a whole different set of feelings to deal with. They may be physically just fine, but they’re fearful, so we work really long and hard to get them comfortable before we even put them on a horse. When one of those people become confident and realizes, “Hey, I can do this,” and that they’re good at it, that’s an amazing thing to see. To them, it’s a therapy, if you wanna call it that. It’s an activity that just provides so much good to people and it’s wonderful to get to be a part of that.

573: So what’s it like being a part of a feature film?

It’s great! It’s a great experience where I think everyone is enjoying it, and the team of people from Motion Dog is really working well with the barn. I think everyone’s enjoying it quite a bit. I’m so anxious to see the finished product, because now I realize how much work goes into getting just one scene filmed and man do we respect that. It’s been amazing.

The Program Director - Varina

On top of being a great mom and daughter, running an impressive barn, and actively educating others on equine care and handling, Varina has recently added Mule Handler to her many titles. A welcome addition to the Motion Dog crew, Varina did an amazing job on set. Both Krystal and Varina worked together to train Lily for her big scene, and made sure their equine buddies stayed comfortable and safe for everyone on set.

573: Tell us about yourself.

My name is Varina Luttrull, I am the program director of Mississippi Valley Therapeutic Horsemanship. MVTH is a 501(c)(3) organization that provides Equine assisted services to individuals with special needs. I originally took a job to care for the horses here 12 years ago. Then I heard those magic words..."we are short handed tonight, can you help?" I was hooked.

I have two brothers and two sisters. My younger sister is in Colorado and my dad lives out there near her. My other sister is in Florida and both of my brothers live in California. My mom just moved out here to be with me last fall and then I also have my daughter, Amelia, who’s coming up on 13.

573: Tell us about the riders today.

So the riders have all been here for a varied amount of time...

...we've seen so much improvement in his mood, his mobility, and his confidence.

Mr. Coffey has been riding with us for years and this is just his thing. This is what he loves to do. It’s a form of exercise. It’s his day out. Mr. Coffey suffered a stroke years ago which left him paralyzed on one side. We've seen so much improvement in his mood, his mobility, and his confidence since he's been here, it's just amazing.

Pierce has been riding with us for several years. I can’t put a number on that though. He’s had such a great accomplishment, because he started out with a full team of volunteers which is three volunteers, and then we were slowly able to peel all those volunteers away so that he rides independently. He has grown so much in his skills, in his abilities, and he just loves it! He’s kind of our guy, that every time we get a new horse, he gets to ride the new horse 1st. He loves them all like they’re all beautiful and he loves them all like they’re all his buddies.

John was a former student from years back that had taken a long hiatus, gone to a private barn and he had had private riding lessons. Then that instructor moved on. He hadn’t ridden in a number of years when they contacted us to get him back into lessons. So he’s just coming back to us, and he remembers a lot of his riding skills, but he still needs a little bit of help with some things. He loves the whole social environment. I don’t know if you picked up on that, but he loves just paying attention to the people he likes. Saying Hi to everybody, doing the ride by high-fives. He’s just so social now. He's non-verbal, but he can make sounds and has come very close to saying the words WALK for WALK ON and WHOA since he's been riding with us.

My mom, Sue, she’s brand new to the program. It is a good source of exercise for her because she has neuropathy in her feet. She can’t feel her feet so she doesn’t walk around very much. She uses her chair a lot of the time, but I think being on the horse she has found a little bit of freedom to be up and moving around in a way that she hasn’t gotten to in a long time.

Our next challenge is to teach Carson how to say WHOA, but he hates it when the horse stops. So I don’t know that we’ll ever see that happen!

Young Carson, he’s such a PIP! He’s been riding with us since he was 6 or 7, so a good 10 years, and he has active seizures. He can say some words and sign. He used to use sign language for WALK ON. He could say yeah, he could say no. So I’m like you can say ON for a WALK ON, and so we really pushed him to be a little more verbal and he’s excelling at that. Our next challenge is to teach him how to say WHOA, but he hates it when the horse stops. So I don’t know that we’ll ever see that happen!

He rides a little horse named Brē and she alerts us to his seizures. When he’s having kind of an off day she lets us know. So we keep him paired up with Brē, because she’s so good with him. He’s probably had several seizures while on Brē, and she’s always very concerned about his well-being. When a seizure starts, Brē will just kind of slow down from kind of an upbeat walk all the way down to a stop. The first time that happened, we could not make her move. We weren’t sure what was going on, but then when we looked at Carson, he was clearly having a seizure. Brē turned into a statue. This happened on a couple of different occasions where she just waited him out. When a person is having a seizure, you don’t try to move them or relocate them. So we just supported him and let the moment pass. When he came back to us and Brē felt sure he was OK she continued on. Then after the ride she has to give him a thorough sniffing from head to his toes to make sure all is well and then every week after for probably about four weeks she wants to examine him before he gets on. She is like the mama now.

So they all gain a little something out of it, but they all kind of come from a different place with it too, which is awesome.

573: What’s your favorite part of what you do?

Oh gosh! I like that I like the joy that we bring to the riders. They thrive! When you can give somebody who doesn’t ambulate a chance to move around freely without a device, that’s fantastic! Or when you can help a child say words when they’re nonverbal, that impact is on the whole family. There’s so many aspects about this job that bring joy to me, but through the joy that it brings to the riders. There’s tons of stories that I could share, but I think the best part about it is just watching how the riders find an element of control in their own life and that is inspired to come to you every day. interesting and fun experience that I will never forget!

573: Tell us about Lily.

Lily is a 17 year old molly mule who was just recently donated to MVTH. She has a profound love of people, children especially. She is already winning the hearts of riders and volunteers. She is so sweet and personable and she’s unlike any other mule I have ever met, because she really likes people. That’s my favorite part about her, she’s sweet and she likes people.

573: What’s it like being part of a feature film?

It has been an interesting experience. I will probably never watch movies the same again, and I have a little better appreciation for actors and the crew and all that goes into it. I mean, there’s a lot. Everybody kind of knows there’s a lot, but you don’t really process how much that is until you’re a part of the set. I know this is a lot more low-key than those big Hollywood productions, and we’re not in a fancy studio, we’re just kind of on site, but it’s been an interesting and fun experience that I will never forget!

573: What do you hope to see happen for MVTH in the future?

I hope to see MVTH grow in the services we can offer to the community. Programs for veterans would be one I would love to get off the ground.

That sounds awesome! With all the great things that are happening and the amazing people behind them, we're sure to be seeing more out of Mississippi Valley Therapeutic Horsemanship in the future.

But don't let them have all the fun! Whether you walk, run, skip, or saddle up and ride...



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