S.M.I.L.E.S. leader leaves legacy for people with special needs

By TODD MISHLER ( Contact )   Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013


A sense of accomplishment is one of the many benefits for those who ride at Special Methods in Learning Equine Skills, or S.M.I.L.E.S., in the town of Darien. S.M.I.L.E.S. co-founder Sherry Monty is retiring after heading the effort for 28 years.

A sense of accomplishment is one of the many benefits for those who ride at Special Methods in Learning Equine Skills, or S.M.I.L.E.S., in the town of Darien. S.M.I.L.E.S. co-founder Sherry Monty is retiring after heading the effort for 28 years.


Sherry Monty

Sherry Monty

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— Her love of horses simply wasn’t enough. Sherry Monty wanted to use that passion for a greater good. And that dream has resulted in a success story, not only in Walworth County, but the entire Midwest.

Monty co-founded Special Methods in Learning Equine Skills in 1985, introducing the benefits of therapeutic riding to the Stateline area while transcending traditional efforts by matching horses with special-needs individuals.

(Read all of this week's stories from Walworth County Sunday HERE. )

The acronym says it all, because S.M.I.L.E.S. has delivered smiles by the thousands. So, the organization hasn’t just survived -- it’s thrived. And that’s largely due to Monty’s tireless devotion to helping others.

“Our oldest daughter, Tia, has been riding here for almost seven years,” said Burlington resident Troy Moldenhauer, whose five children all have special needs. “She has a psychiatric disorder and ADHD, so she struggles to express her feelings and faces a lot of social challenges. But she really opens up when she’s here, especially with her instructor, Katie (Boss). Tia looks up to her and now wants to be an instructor like Katie. It’s incredible how this program has helped her.”

Now multiply that one small -- but significant -- story by hundreds, and one gets an idea of the magnitude of what S.M.I.L.E.S. has accomplished. A legion of devoted parents and volunteers will get a chance to thank Monty for her vision, because after 28 years of service, she is retiring and handing the reins to Gay Stran.

The celebration and an open house will be held from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26, at the Evergreen Golf Club in Elkhorn (see graphic on Page 8).

The humble Monty is the last one who would seek such attention. Although visible to everyone and involved in every aspect of the operation, Monty did much of her crucial and painstaking work behind the scenes.

Monty said every minute was worth it to see what the organization has become. And while she definitely won’t be a stranger to the facility on County Highway K, she is looking for some quality “me” time for traveling, biking, boating, and her favorite, horseback riding.

“It was a hard decision, of course, so it wasn’t something that I just jumped into,” Monty said. “But I’m slowing down and we’ve got a lot of people and great involvement. The business and programs have grown so much and it’s tough keeping up to speed, so I believe it’s time for new blood with fresh skills and perspectives.

“We’ve got a wonderful crew of volunteers, some of them such as Dennis and Joan Dutton, who work tirelessly,” Monty added about an organization that serves clients within a 70-mile radius. “We started with seven riders and 12 volunteers and offered two classes on Tuesdays with four horses in our back yard. We’ve grown to have more than 400 volunteers some years with 350 riders and classes six days a week. We moved here for good in 1994, where we have 35 acres and grow our own hay.”

Read the complete story in the Jan. 6 print or e-edition of Walworth County Sunday.

At a glance

-- What: Retirement party for S.M.I.L.E.S. co-founder Sherry Monty

-- When: 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26

-- Where: Evergreen Golf Club, U.S. Highway 12, Elkhorn

-- Activities: Open house, cash bar, appetizers, music

-- For more: To RSVP or get more information, call (262) 882-3470.

The S.M.I.L.E.S. Scholarship Fund now bears Monty’s name. Anyone wishing to honor her can make a donation through the website at smilestherapeuticriding.org or by mailing it to S.M.I.L.E.S., N2666 County Highway K, Darien, WI 53114.


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