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Family Tree Thrives at Horton’s Orthotics & Prosthetics

5 min read

Gary Horton was happy when his three children showed an interest in joining the family business, Horton’s Orthotics & Prosthetics, though, he said, he made a point of not trying to sway them. “They just basically all chose to do it.”

That may be because Mike, Tonya and Chris Horton saw what their father saw in the profession: “a rare blend” in the allied health field requiring both technical and clinical skills.

“You’re using hand skills, working with machines, drill presses, bended metal and plastics, but then you also have the clinical aspect, fitting patients and working with physicians, mostly orthopedic surgeons, neurosurgeons,” Horton said.

Horton’s, in business since 1981, has just opened its fifth location, in North Little Rock. Its headquarters are at its Little Rock site, a 12,000-SF much-added-onto house on West 12th Street, and it also has offices in Fort Smith, Searcy and Bryant.

The company, which started with four employees, now has 25 employees and $3 million-plus in annual revenue.

Gary Horton, founder, CEO and president of Horton’s, first opened his business as an orthotics-only facility, later adding prosthetics. Orthotics deals with the mechanics of supporting weak joints and muscles; a knee or spinal brace is an example. Prosthetics are artificial devices that substitute for a missing part of the body, like a mechanical arm or an artificial leg.

Horton, trained in orthotics, focuses on pediatric orthotics, working with children with scoliosis or spina bifida, for example. He takes particular pride and pleasure in stopping, through the use of bracing, the progression of scoliosis and in seeing his patients not just able to stand upright but able to walk.

Horton’s eldest son, Mike, licensed in both orthotics and prosthetics, heads the prosthetics department for the Little Rock and Searcy locations.

Tonya Horton, the middle child, has a degree in business administration and marketing and is Horton’s marketing director. She also manages the Bryant office and operates Horton Technology, which distributes orthoses designed by her father, and she is certified in fitting mastectomy patients. When Barbara Graves closed her store, Barbara Graves Intimate Fashions, four of her mastectomy fitters moved to Horton’s.

Chris Horton, the youngest son, is also licensed in both orthotics and prosthetics and manages the Searcy office. In addition, Chris works with his father in developing orthotic devices.

All three siblings began working at Horton’s as children, “just like any other family business, mopping and sweeping and such,” Gary Horton said.

She’d come to the office after school, Tonya said. “I don’t know what it was, but I wanted to come up here and work,” she said. “I wanted to stuff envelopes at the age of 6. And so I just guess that as I got older, it was kind of in my blood.”

“For me, the biggest part of it is working with and seeing my family every day,” Tonya said. “Mike and Chris and my dad — they’re all very funny in different ways. You can never come here and not laugh, not one single day. Or come here on a day and not feel like you’ve helped somebody.”

In addition to his clinical work, Gary Horton has developed a number of new orthotic devices. “By nature of the orthotic and prosthetic profession, I think anybody who has a little bit of an inventor in him, that kind of comes with the work we do,” he said.

Horton worked with NASA in the late 1990s developing an orthotic knee joint. That device became “so technical,” he said, that manufacturing it was not economically feasible. However, Horton and a team of engineers and machinists devised a spinoff design that was feasible. The device, the Horton Stance-Control Orthotic Knee Joint, helps patients needing knee support walk more normally and with less effort. It was released in 2001 and is used and sold throughout the world. It is manufactured by a machine shop in Mount Ida, Mount Ida Machining Inc.

And in about 2005, Horton’s developed an adaptation of a device used to help children with club feet. It featured a “quick release” that helped children put their shoes on more quickly and conveniently.

The company’s reputation has helped it attract at least one world-famous prosthetic developer, South African native Francois Van Der Watt, who designed the prosthetics that allowed double-amputee and sprinter Oscar Pistorius to compete in the 2012 Olympics.

Van Der Watt previously worked for Ossur, a prosthetic manufacturer based in Iceland. He has lived in the U.S. since 2002 and would work with Horton’s, mostly with Mike and Chris, in training practitioners in the use of Ossur products.

Van Der Watt knew that Horton’s was seeking a practitioner for its Fort Smith office. “So he actually approached us, which really made us feel good,” Gary Horton said. “He told us that the reason why he wanted to talk with us was that he could see from his traveling and working with us that we were very patient-oriented.”

In addition, Van Der Watt has two young children and was looking to quit traveling and settle down to private practice. He determined that Horton’s and Fort Smith were where he wanted to be.

And despite the company’s success at developing products, patient care remains the primary business of Horton’s Orthotics & Prosthetics, Horton said.

As for the advantages and disadvantages of running a family business, Horton has his ideas.

One advantage, he said, is loyalty — “the commitment of the family to pull together. It’s a team. It’s hard to get that with employees, even with the best employees and good employees. And I’m blessed to have good employees.”

And the disadvantages?

“Well, in my case sometimes the sibling rivalry gets involved,” Horton said. “I think the disadvantage for my kids is I expect probably more from them than I should. But I think they’re also — which is bad but also good — they’re very honest with me if they think I’m not doing what I need to be doing.”

He doesn’t think much about his “legacy,” Horton said, but he remembers the words of his father.

“My dad always told me when I was young, ‘No matter what you do, try to be the best.’ And that’s what I’ve tried to do. … I tried to be the best. I’m not going to say I was. But I was always striving for that.”


Read more articles from this week’s focus on small and family-owned businesses:

Fort Smith’s Pruitt Tool & Supply Co. Going Global

Brothers Take Creative Act to New Cranford Co.

Geovanni Leiva Brings Family Coffee from Guatemala to Leiva’s Coffee in Sherwood

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