Corporate Social Responsibility: A company’s sense of responsibility towards the community and environment in which it operates.
In just one short year since being resurrected, Farmington Polo Club in Farmington, Connecticut, exemplifies how passion and dedication to the local community can lead to growth. Originally founded in 1929 and affiliated with the United States Polo Association in 1938 under the name Farmington Valley, the club won the 12-Goal Championship before becoming dormant in 1954. Over the past several years, the land has changed hands many times and polo fell into abeyance. The club now has a new dedicated owner and is once again an Active Member Club with the United States Polo Association. “We want to use the property, which is 60 plus acres of beautiful level grassy areas along the Farmington River, as a community focus where polo and other equestrian competitions can be used as a backdrop for corporate events, fundraisers and family fun,” said Club Manager and USPA Certified Polo Instructor Jennifer Williams.
Farmington Polo Club began their journey back into the polo scene in 2016. “Last year we only had one polo exhibition, we were still underway with planning, getting boards made, leveling the field, balancing the pH in the soil, all of the necessary preparations and maintenance to run a top notch polo facility and club,” said Williams. “We were contacted by a dog rescue inquiring as to whether or not they could attend the polo exhibition and do their volunteer appreciation day at our game. It was a huge success, and since then word spread that we were going to be fully operational this summer.”
A small staff consisting of Williams, UCONN polo alumnus Patrick Marinelli, USPA Intern Allyson Schult, and intern Emma Borowski operate Farmington Polo Club with the help of a groundskeeper and seasonal turf intern. Schult and Borowski help to keep Farmington positioned as a fun, family-friendly atmosphere in the local community. “In addition to the website, we help with all the social media and make the public aware of which charities are benefitting from the support of our polo games,” said Schult. “By growing and attracting the spectatorship through social media, we simultaneously raise money and awareness for the charities that we are supporting. As a result, Farmington Polo Club becomes better known and better connected with the community.”
Farmington has a full summer schedule aimed at bringing the community together while benefiting charities and the local economy. “We had a local pastry maker, Cake Gypsy, who donated 100 cupcakes for our divot stomp. So we are also using our events as a way for local businesses to promote themselves,” explained Williams. “We are a member of the Central Connecticut Chamber of Commerce. They have a ‘Business After Hours’ event that we hosted. Local businesses came to a practice, showcased themselves and also had the opportunity to network amongst one another. We provided hors d’oeuvres, had a wine donor and local soda pop company that donated non-alcoholic beverages.”
“We are creating an eco-system here. We have the philanthropic aspect, the community engagement, the local business promotion and the culture of polo. Polo is the main focus but the peripheral benefits are wonderful. ” – Jennifer Williams
The club owner is incredibly dedicated to philanthropic work through the Hometown Foundation, which focuses on Special Olympic athletic competitions and fun activities, placing charitable initiatives at the forefront of every public polo game and special event at Farmington Polo Club. The foundation’s event, Dream Ride, is going into its seventeenth year on the Farmington Polo Club property. “The great part about the event is the Dream Cruise,” said Williams, “we have over 400 privately owned antique, custom built and hyper cars show up. Last year we had the largest showing of McLaren’s in one place. The owners register their vehicle and do a tour of the valley with a Special Olympics athlete. When they come back they have a red carpet experience under our big tents and a banquet dinner. We have a carnival, a fun zone and lots of different vendors. My face hurt for a week from smiling and laughing so much with the athletes and volunteers!”
The USPA Northeastern Circuit Women’s Challenge will be played as the Pink Ribbon Cup to raise funds and awareness for the Susan G. Komen Foundation of New England. A Horses and Horsepower happening game was held to benefit “Vettes Helping Vets” the Connecticut Military Corporate Vet Club that raises money for Connecticut veterans to buy homes, as well as teach them job skills and give them attention they may need mentally and physically. Several other public games are scheduled to take place over the summer, all benefiting charities encompassing the philanthropic spectrum.
The club soon hopes to help reinstate the Special Olympics equestrian competition in Connecticut. “The Special Olympics in Connecticut had a long history of equestrian competitors; two were national champions in the seventies. Since then, funding for therapeutic riding programs has dried up and people with the proper training and background have become few and far between,” said Williams. “We aim to bring them back by being a host facility and an event coordinator because we understand how they run their competitions due to our involvement with the Hometown Foundation.”
Farmington Polo Club is open to all who are interested in playing polo and offers a polo school complete with a string of well-trained ponies. “We are open to boarders, we have 38 stalls, plus 20 more at another facility, paddocks and a regulation size field that is boarded,” said Williams. “We have a stick and ball area, exercise track and a regular grass riding ring that is great for short working horses. An outdoor regulation size arena is under construction and will serve as the classroom for many of our lessons.”
The club continues to attract the player and fan alike with help from the USPA and the town of Farmington. “We received a $1,500 Polo Development Initiative grant through the USPA and I bought bridles and foot mallets for the polo school,” said Williams. “We also worked with the town on promoting the polo school because we want to invite our community. The town of Farmington is hosting the administrative component of people signing up for our polo school. To sign up for polo school, they go to the town’s website where they can click, plug and pay all in one place. The town benefits from offering polo and diversifying their program and we continue to get exposure and grow our player membership.”
Continuing to serve the polo community, Farmington will host the first New England Polo Pony Market this year on September 16-17. “In New England there are so many small clubs spread out that people have a hard time buying and selling horses with each other,” explained Williams. “We are putting together a market where people can buy, sell, swap or donate a horse.” Farmington will serve as the host site for equestrians to gather and find great homes for each available horse. “We will have the University of Connecticut here with the proper paperwork for horse donations, we will have a vet on-site, and may expand it to include a used tack sale,” said Williams. Sellers will get a template of information they need to fill out for each horse, and anyone that wants to play the horse can sign up for short trial chukkers in the arena or on the grass. Not only will the New England Polo Pony Market connect players with horses, it will also serve as a wonderful time for polo players to reconnect with Farmington Polo Club and have the Northeast clubs, rich in polo history and culture, unite and support one another.
“We are finding more and more people hearing about us everywhere we go,” exclaimed Williams. “People stop us on the street or in the car to talk about polo. There is so much history here and everyone has some kind of connection story or affiliation.”
“They are chomping at the bit- no pun intended- to come watch polo again! ” – Jennifer Williams
Aside from Alumni games for Cornell University and local area high schools, Farmington hopes to become more involved with schools in Connecticut. “We are in an area where we have five private boarding schools with students from all around the world so we are hoping to tap that market and offer an interscholastic program,” said Williams. “We want to be a non-biased facility for the colleges in New England to come and compete so that they do not have to be on each other’s turf for a competition.”
With the support from players, fans, charities and community, Farmington has big plans for growth. “We would like to eventually acquire another property or facility to have another playing field, stated Williams, “Ideally we would love to host bigger USPA events.” Used as an attraction for philanthropic endeavors, corporate events and athletic competitions, Farmington Polo Club’s commitment to the sport, philanthropic focus and community involvement truly defines the term corporate social responsibility. To learn more about Farmington Polo Club, please visit their website at www.farmingtonpoloclub.com and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.