story and photos by Emily Hilley-Sierzchula, special to The City Wire
More than 2,000 people turned out Saturday (Sept. 7) for the 24th annual Polo in the Ozarks fundraiser that benefits Life Styles, a nonprofit that helps disabled people become more self-sufficient.
The event has always taken place on the Buell Farm near Goshen. Polo fields have to be at least 300 yards long, the length of three football fields. It is "the largest field in organized sport," according to SportPolo.
The event is expected to raise "more than $100,000," said Jennifer Maynard, executive director of Life Styles. "We had a record number of sponsorships, which raised $91,000," she said.
A silent and live auction raised even more funds for Life Styles as guests bid on a wide variety of items.
Polo in the Ozarks is the longest-running charitable event in Northwest Arkansas. It started 24 years ago when "Life Styles was looking for an unusual fundraiser," Maynard said. The Buell family had started playing polo, and "someone connected the two," she explained.
The match on Buell Farm is the only polo fundraiser in the region, and one of only a few in the country.
"It's not a widely played sport," Maynard said. "But it's so beautiful."
Horses are the center of the world for many people. Cortney Rogers is a groom who has her own horse park.
"Life Styles needed help and I love polo," Rogers said. "Any time I can be around horses, even though I'm around them 24/7, I'll do it."
Polo horses are usually of the Thoroughbred and Quarter horse breeds, and weigh more than 1,000 pounds. The challenge of polo is to control the mallet and ball while keeping a galloping horse under rein.
Following the two-hour match was a gala, where the 700 guests enjoyed dinner, drinks, dancing and live music. The gala sold out Tuesday, which was a record, Maynard said. Gala tickets cost $100, which was $25 more than they cost last year.
Life Styles focuses on "community-based service and independence," Maynard said. "We try to teach folks how to live independently and safely. We want them living, working and playing as part of the community."
Sponsors included Wal-Mart and Wells Fargo.