SMILES open house allows riders to showcase accomplishments

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Ashley McCallum
Saturday, September 16, 2017

DARIEN-- People at Special Methods in Learning Equine Skills are familiar with seeing smiles, and not just because SMILES is the non-profit's nickname.

SMILES is a center for horse assisted activities and therapies for adults and children over the age of 4 who have special needs, according to the organization's website.

The organization's fifth annual open house and Superstar Student Show is Saturday, Sept. 23, at the SMILES facility, N2666 County Road K, Darien.

Participants will showcase the skills they learned from weekly equestrian therapy sessions and compete for trophies and ribbons, according to a news release.

“We want to see our riders smile, and we want their families to experience the pride and excitement for their achievement,” Executive Director Gay Stran said. “We want the community to come in and see the facility to understand better what we do here, and we would love to recruit volunteers.”

For some participants, the show is the only activity they participate in away from home, work or school, said Katie Luessenhop, volunteer coordinator.

The participants get excited for the opportunity to show their achievements to a crowd, Luessenhop said. Some wait all year for their chance to take the stage.

“This is their time to really work toward a goal and showcase what they're working on,” Luessenhop said. “It's a moment for them to be really proud of themselves and what they've worked on and accomplished.”

Just under 50 participants will show their skills during the show, Luessenhop said.

Community members can watch free of charge and learn about volunteer opportunities with SMILES, Stran said.

New this year, art painted by SMILES' horses will be sold, with profits going to the United Way, said Katie Boss, program coordinator.

Therapeutic riding can help people with any diagnoses or disability, Boss said.

A client can benefit physically by improving balance, coordination, core strength and motor skills, Boss said. Cognitively, it helps improve communication, sequencing and scholastic skills like reading and memorization.

Horses are very intuitive animals, Boss said. Clients often create bonds with the horses, which helps develop and strengthen emotional skills.

Luessenhop hopes that seeing participants perform at the open house will help people better understand and become more considerate of people with disabilities.

“I think that it's a great way for them (attendees) to show support for their community,” Luessenhop said. “It's also a great way to understand what SMILES is about.”

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