By Jessica Creagan
VERO BEACH --Dazzling blue skies, sunshine and a constant breeze, a picturesque Florida day, was the backdrop for the biennial 2014 Windsor Charity Polo Cup last weekend.
Hundreds gathered on both sides of the Windsor Club polo field to enjoy the weather, company, food, horses and polo players, all in the name of raising funds for two causes, the Rett Syndrome Research Trust and "Summer Literacy on the Lagoon."
Jesus and Amy Diaz of Vero Beach and their friends, Luis and Mercy San Miguel of Miami, set up their own party area on the tailgating side of the polo field, with the theme "Run for the Roses."
Their tailgating area included finger foods on a striking black and rose-red table décor, complete with horseshoes, mint juleps, and an exquisite rose-flavored cake with rose-flavored icing created by a local bakery Fillin' n Chillin'.
Mrs. Diaz said she enjoys watching polo and coming up with a tailgating theme.
"It's also fun to see what the other tailgaters have come up with too," Mrs. Diaz said.
When the polo match begins, it can be very exciting, said Mrs. San Miguel.
"It is a lot of fun when they come close. You can really hear the thundering hooves," she said.
On the opposite side of the field were guests dining under a large tent to a catered meal by Windsor Club.
Lauren Lafortune, 24, attended the event and also participated in a riding demonstration for the guests.
The elegant round tables were topped with soft blue and white tablecloths and floral arrangements of orchids or mixed cut flowers, including white hydrangea, tulips and hypericum berries.
Ms. Lafortune is a rider with Special Equestrians of the Treasure Coast, a nonprofit organization that fosters personal achievement through equine-assisted activities and therapy for individuals with special needs.
She has been riding for four years and has greatly improved her core strength and balance as a result.
"When I started I used to be really flimsy and all over the place, but now I've strengthened everything," Ms. Lafortune said.
This year the polo match featured world class polo players, including a familiar name in Vero Beach, John Walsh.
Mr. Walsh, well-known in the television industry as the creator of the television program, America's Most Wanted, was one of eight players that competed in the charity event.
"With all of these excellent players, this is as good as it gets," Mr. Walsh said of the polo match.
He took up the sport later in life and enjoys racing around the 9-acre polo fields at high speeds.
"It is so fast and really so dangerous," Mr. Walsh said.
The horses often reach speeds of 35 miles per hour, but unlike horse racing on tracks, the mounts must follow commands to stop and change direction abruptly with the play and must deal with other horses bumping into them, he said.
"The horses are everything in this sport," Mr. Walsh said.
The other competitors that participated in the match were brothers and polo legends Memo and Carlos Gracida, Mike Azzaro, Malcolm Borwick, Luis Escobar and Salvatore Ferragamo.
Mr. Ferragamo, the grandson of Italian footwear designer and president of Il Borro Winery in Italy, was the honorary co-chair for the event.
In the inaugural polo event in 2012, $360,000 was raised for charity. This year the final amount raised will be divided between the two chosen charities.
The Rett Syndrome Research Trust is a nonprofit organization dedicated to searching for a cure for Rett Syndrome, the most physically disabling of the autism spectrum disorders.
Rett Syndrome strikes little girls almost exclusively, with the first symptoms appearing before 18 months. Individuals diagnosed with Rett Syndrome lose speech, motor control and functional hand use and many suffer seizures, orthopedic and severe digestive problems, requiring round-the-clock care, a press release said.
Summer Literacy on the Lagoon is a program designed exclusively for Windsor to support the Indian River school district's "Moonshot Moment" literacy goal of 90 percent of third-graders reading at grade level by 2018.
The summer program will help stop the "summer slide" of learning loss for graduating second graders so they are better prepared for school in the fall, said Lisa Mucci, a teacher at Sebastian Elementary and "Summer Literacy" curriculum developer.
Students from Sebastian and Treasure Coast elementary schools that participate in the program will receive intensive literacy instruction with an environmental unit of study, which will include trips to the Environmental Learning Center in Wabasso.
For more information about the Windsor Charity Polo Cup, visit www.windsorflorida.com/polo.