Mystery Place: Riding their success since 1985

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Ginny Hall | October 3, 2016

S.M.I.L.E.S. is located at N2666 County Highway K in Section 36 in the town of Darien. This is the second location for this therapy riding program. It began in 1985 at the home of Sherry Monty with four borrowed horses and saddles. Monty grew up loving horses. Soon she was boarding them and working with special needs children.

Monty learned about therapeutic riding through a television program featuring a facility on the West Coast. Next she saw a news program about a center on the East Coast along with a contact phone number. That got her started.

She visited programs in Augusta, Michigan, and Oregon, Wisconsin. This was followed by a lot of research into guidelines, safety procedures and finances  —to name a few items.

When she went to register  incorporation papers, she discovered that “Smiles” already was taken. Eventually they worked it out to keep that idea with S.M.I.L.E.S., which stands for Special Methods In Learning Equine Skills.

The program started with one class each week at Monty's farm on Wisconsin Highway 14. Executive Director Gay Stran said it has grown to 22 horses, mostly owned by the corporation, although a few are leased. Ginny Hall, a Delavan historian, is author of the “Walking around ...” and “Meandering ... ” books, which highlight the history of Walworth County communities.There are seven instructors to work with about 100 clients each week.  The facility is open six days a week.             

Stran has been director for four years. Currently there are four full-time and six part-time employees. Stran indicated that they provide around 10,000 volunteer hours each year. The  youngest client is 4 and the oldest is 79.

Fundraising efforts include horse shows, golf outings, 5K events, tack sales and donations. S.M.I.L.E.S. is hosting a horse show Saturday, Sept. 24. Organizers are hoping to have 40 participants showing their riding skills. The public is invited to this free event.

Each participant has to collect a minimum of $75 in pledges to take part in this event. They will receive ribbons and trophies and a S.M.I.L.E.S. T-shirt designed by one of their classmates. 

The current property was purchased in 1990 and classes were moved there in 1993. 

I discovered that the owner of the largest portion of the S.M.I.L.E.S. property, according to the 1857 plat map and the 1873 plat book, was M.O. Grinell. The 1891 plat book lists the owner as M.O. Grinell Est. The 1882 “History of Walworth County” reported that Grinell served as a town supervisor in 1859. Albert Beckwith's history lists him as Moody Orlando Grinell.

In the 1907 and 1921 plat books,  the owner is shown as the Whelan Bros. In the 1930 plat book the owner is listed as Larry Whelan.

The Prairie Farmer's Directory of Farmers and Breeders lists James Whelan and Lawrence B. Whelan with property in Section 36 in the town of Darien. James came to this area in 1868 and married Elizabeth Paine; their children were Arthur and Irene. Lawrence is reported to have arrived a year later. The Whelans raised Holstein cattle. 

In 1966 the owner of the  S.M.I.L.E.S. property is shown as Theodore Peters. In 1977 the owners were Theodore and Edith Peters. In 1982 the owners were listed as R & D Fritag and Theodore Peters. 

Ginny Hall, a Delavan historian, is author of the “Walking around ...” and “Meandering ... ” books, which highlight the history of Walworth County communities.


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