Farmington Polo Club (Farmington, Connecticut) was proud to host the 2021 Dream Ride Experience Friday, August 20 through Sunday, August 22. Over the past 21 years, The Dream Ride Experience has evolved into a year-long community commitment to celebrate the achievements of the Dream Riders, the true heart and soul of the event. The Dream Riders are Special Olympics athletes and individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities from over 25 different states and three countries. The experience honors these men, women, and children living with intellectual disabilities.
This weekend event and year-round movement highlights their determination and willingness to persevere, overcome challenges, and shatter stereotypes. The Dream Ride Experience advocates for inclusion and building friendships amongst not only the Dream Riders, but also with the participants and attendees.
On Friday, August 20, Lamborghini (Dana Barnes, Alison Patricelli, Heather Souto, Tincho Merlos) bested Rolls Royce (Phyllis Blauvelt, Nano Melendez, Jimmy DeAngelis, Costi Caset*) in a hotly-contested match played before a large charity crowd. The two teams were proudly led out onto the field by a group of Special Olympics athletes who shared smiles, high-fives, and waves with the riders and crowd.
Propelled by goals from Patricelli and Barnes in the first chukker, Lamborghini quickly chipped away at Rolls Royce’s three-goal lead on handicap. An additional goal by Patricelli and two by Merlos in the second chukker gave Lamborghini a 5-3 advantage. “Playing against Costi Caset and Rolls Royce made for a very competitive, fast and tough game,” Merlos said. Two goals by Rolls Royce’s Caset in the third chukker tied the game 5-all at halftime.
Players receive high fives and support from the Dream Riders.
Entering the second half, goals by DeAngelis and Souto in the fourth chukker kept the match tied 6-all. Caset’s goal in the fifth chukker seemed to put Rolls Royce on a path to an upset but a three-goal run for Lamborghini and strong defensive plays holding Rolls Royce to a single goal in the final chukker enabled Lamborghini to emerge victorious 9-8.
“Seeing the smiles of the Dream Riders was fantastic and all of them brought me very good energy,” Caset shared. “The highlight for me was when one of the Dream Ride participants found me in the barn after the game and told me that it was her first polo game ever. She said she was absolutely blown away and is now obsessed with polo.”
Participating in the event for the first time, Barnes was grateful for the opportunity to play polo while supporting a great cause. “It was fantastic to see all of the fan support and I am thankful to have played a small part in supporting this wonderful cause,” Barnes echoed. “My teammates all played great against a tough Rolls Royce team. We spread the field and communicated very well as play evolved. The scoreboard was close throughout, but we were able to make a couple of late goals to seal the victory.”
Alison Patricelli was named Most Valuable Player. Best Playing Pony honors were presented to 10-year-old Thoroughbred mare Gigi (Gitana), played by Jimmy DeAngelis in the fourth chukker. “We recently purchased her in Aiken, South Carolina, and the recognition is special because she was on the field with so many great polo pony athletes,” DeAngelis said.
Lamborghini’s Tincho Merlos changes the direction of play.
“This was my first time being involved in this event and it was a great experience!” Merlos added. “I was impressed with the commitment of the Dream Ride team and everyone who was a part of the experience.”
Farmington Polo Club would like to recognize the grounds crew and Argentine field consultant Alejandro Battro who recovered the field after flooding in the days leading up to the event.
Watching the Dream Ride Experience grow and evolve over the last 21 years, Farmington Polo Club Manager Heather Souto has enjoyed the recent addition of the polo game to the event. “The reach that this event encompasses is unmatched,” Souto said. “We added the polo game to the experience last year and with its success decided to bring it back again this season. Playing alongside Tincho Merlos and competing against Costi Caset all while offering new members this playing experience I think parallels what The Hometown Foundation does 365 days a year – make the unimaginable possible for so many. The sport of polo has given the club a platform to aid, unite and educate our community and beyond.”
Lamborghini and Rolls Royce race down the field in front of a large charity crowd.
The Dream Ride weekend is the signature fundraising event of The Hometown Foundation, Inc., the organization which serves as a principal beneficiary of the Farmington Polo Club season. Throughout the four months which medium and high goal polo are played in Farmington, money is raised through a variety of activities to benefit the Hometown Foundation and its support of Special Olympics, animal adoption, regional emergency response personnel, poverty and food insecurity programs, programs dealing with people with major illness, and initiatives which benefit veterans and the active-duty military.
*Costi Caset is a Graduating Team USPA Member. Team USPA is a USPA program designed to enhance and grow the sport of polo in the United States by identifying young, talented American players and providing mentored training and playing opportunities leading to a pool of higher rated amateur and pro players and the resultant giveback to the sport of polo.
All photos courtesy of ©CJ Yopp.