By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald
FLORENCE - Cowboy hats mingled with Kentucky Derby-style fashion hats at the Vineyard at Florence's second annual polo fundraiser for Georgetown's Ride on Center for Kids Sunday.
All proceeds from the "Mallets and Merlot" event will benefit the center, which offers equine and other therapies for children and adults, including the Horses for Heroes Program in which some Fort Hood wounded warriors participate.
Hundreds of people from across Central Texas turned out to watch the match, drinking wine and sangria in the sunshine, and even helping even out the polo field during a half-time champagne divot stomp.
R.O.C.K. rider Faith Smyth, 6, who has Down syndrome, stomped out the field with her mother, Dana Smyth.
Faith began therapy at the center at two years old, said Smyth, adding that it has improved her coordination, motor and speech skills, and cognitive abilities.
Hippotherapy, or equine therapy, is so successful because the horse mimics the movements and rhythms of the human body, said R.O.C.K. founder Nancy Krenek.
"I can't say enough great things about R.O.C.K.," Smyth said. "It really is an amazing place."
Last year's event raised $120,000 for the center, according to vineyard event coordinator Shawna Elatt, who estimated that about 25 percent more people attended this year's event.
The two-year-old vineyard benefits from the exposure the event brings, Elatt said.
General admission was free, but a $150 V.I.P. ticket included a seat in the pavilion as well as free wine and food. About 550 people purchased such tickets Sunday, according to R.O.C.K. special events coordinator Christy Hall.
The vineyard donated the space and formed its own polo team for the event, The Vineyard at Florence team, which faced the Austin ANCHA team. Both are comprised of Austin residents from around the world, including Argentina, Pakistan and Israel.
"Mallets and Merlot" isn't the center's largest fundraiser of the year, but it has the potential to grow, Hall said.
R.O.C.K. was founded in 1998 with one horse and four students. Today, the center serves about 180 people and is the biggest provider of hippotherapy in Central Texas. Students pay 40 percent of session costs, while R.O.C.K. pays for 60 percent through fundraisers, grants and donations. Participants in the Horses for Heroes program receive free services.
Contact Colleen Flaherty at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHfeatures.