Only SMILES in her life

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Mike Heine
Sunday, January 20, 2008
— Sherry Monty took her horse trail riding one day in the early 1980s, and it changed her path forever.

She and a friend were discussing a program they had seen on TV a few days before about therapeutic horseback riding for people with disabilities.

Always having an interest in helping children with disabilities, Monty studied such riding programs and decided to start Special Methods In Learning Equine Skills at her home in Darien.

SMILES would combine her love of horses with her love of people and put grins on the faces of hundreds from the area.

What started in 1985 with seven disabled riders, 12 volunteers, four borrowed horses and one-night-a-week classes has blossomed into a modern stable on 35 acres with 20 horses and almost daily classes serving more than 350 children and adult riders every year.

“I step back and look at it and go, ‘Holy cow!’” Monty said of the growth at SMILES.

Monty is proud of what she’s achieved, but she didn’t do it alone, she says. She’s too humble to take much credit.

“It’s the community—the volunteer community, the donor community, businesses, the media. Everybody,” she said. “It’s been that buildup of people that has made this possible.”

With the non-profit organization growing every year, Monty isn’t out-and-about among the riders as much as she used to be. She performs office duties and manages a permanent staff and an increasing number of volunteers.

But people still gravitate toward her.

“It’s a good thing for her to be into,” said Jean Finn, director of instruction and programming at SMILES. “Witnessing the everyday occurrences that happen when you merge people with animals, it just keeps you going.”

Horseback riding is looked at as an accepted therapy for people with cognitive, physical, social and emotional disorders, Monty said.

“The riders, when they’re here, you can see their progression, and they are happy,” Monty said. “Some therapies might not be so much fun. Here, there’s a lot of smiling going on.”

And behind those smiles can be small miracles.

“People who are not able to walk sometimes can get the strength to walk again. Some that have not spoken, speak,” said Darlene Geiser, business coordinator. “It’s just wonderful to see the differences.”

“It all feels good,” Monty said. “It’s doing something good for other people. They get so much out of it. Not only the enjoyment, but also so many benefits that go through their life that carry on that they’re able to build on. It’s just a really unique thing.”

As unique as SMILES itself, which has blazed a new pathway for so many.

Sherry Monty
Age: 56
Community: Darien
Occupation: Director of Administration at SMILES
Family: Son, Justin, 21; step-daughter, Heather Richardson, 35; step-son, Brian Monty, 39; ex-husband, Keith Monty (who has supported SMILES from the start)
Favorite hobbies: Camping and trail riding with her horses
Favorite music: “Anything that’s not extreme.” No rap or heavy metal.
Favorite movie: “Michael,” with John Travolta
Role model: Mother, Marie Sorensen
Three words that best describe you: Easy-going, empathetic, appreciative

Last updated: 1:23 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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