By Mr. Kevin Stabinsky (IMCOM)May 17, 2010
FORT MCPHERSON, Ga. - Although the Marines managed to defeat the Army 7-6 in the 2010 polo match at Hedekin Field on Fort McPherson May 8, no one could be considered a real loser in the event.
The event, which benefited the Wounded Warrior and Horses for Heroes at Chastain Park programs, was held to increase the public's knowledge about the game as well as the programs offered to injured servicemembers at Chastain.
Amy Lance, founder of Chastain Horse Park, said she began working with wounded veterans nearly three years ago.
Her park, which she founded in 1998, was initially founded to work with disabled children, but over the years expanded to adults and to the military.
Over the past year, she said her foundation has worked with 60 veterans wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Her program is open to servicemembers from all branches and works closely with the Atlanta-based Shepherd Center, one of the top rehabilitation hospitals in the nation, which specializes in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury or brain injury.
Working with horses is therapeutic for the body and mind, Lance said. Veterans are offered both mounted and non-mounted therapy.
Riding on a horse helps the body by strengthening core muscles and improving balance.
Mentally, controlling a horse helps increase self esteem and provides a sense of accomplishment, Lance said.
It also grants wheelchair bound veterans the freedom to leave their wheelchair and rise head and shoulders above those around them.
For non-mounted therapy, accomplishment is built through bonding with a horse by taking care of it through grooming, Lance said.
"A handicap doesn't have to be a negative," she said, evoking the concept of polo where handicaps are used to make games more competitive between teams of unequal skill.
Both teams playing on Saturday were of equal skill level, although at times it didn't appear like it.
At the end of the first of six scheduled chukkas, a seven-and-a-half minute period, the Army team took a 1-0 lead.
The team continued to run up the score, ending the half with a 5-2 lead.
The Marines, who had been struggling through the first half, picked up the pace in the second, scoring two unanswered goals in the fourth and fifth chukkas to take a 6-5 lead.
The Army tied the game early in the final chukka. However, a late drive by the Marines led to the final score of the game.
With less than a minute to go, the Army tried to even the score once again, but came up short.
Stephen Stana, a polo player on the Marine team, said he had no doubt of his team's superiority.
Still, he said the best feeling came not from winning, but for helping increase awareness of the Horses for Heroes and Wounded Warrior programs.
"It's the right spirit to support those who serve our country," said Stana, a former U.S. Army Reservist for six years.
A player for 35 years who once played on Hedekin Field in 1988, Stana said he was asked by organizers to play and jumped at the chance to give back, describing it as a great feeling.
He said that good feeling also radiated with the crowd.
"I think everyone enjoyed the day," he said. "I think they'll come back and it will get bigger."
Maj. Nicole Stanford, plans officer for Third Army/U.S. Army Central G-2, was in attendance with her daughter, Alison, 4.
It was the first polo match for both, although not their first experiences with horses.
"I have three horses of my own, two big, and a small one for Alison," she said.
Standford said she heard of the event from Stana, who she purchases hay from for her horses.
It was a chance to see him and others play.
"It was real neat. I used to ride at that skill level," she said, adding she played polocrosse, a horse based sport that combines elements of polo and lacrosse.
Alison said she also liked the event, adding seeing all the horses running around the field was her favorite part.
Although she didn't say if she wanted to grow up to be a polo player, she did have a potential inspiration on the field.
Female Marine polo player, Jolie Liston, was one of two professional polo players on the field. The other pro was Army polo player Julian Pettinato.
Overall, Col. Deborah B. Grays, U.S. Army Garrison commander, said she was proud of the event and described the two-year partnership between Fort McPherson and Chastain Park as "spectacular."
Lance agreed, presenting Grays with a coffee table book on polo to commemorate the day.
With Fort McPherson set to close next year due to the Base Realignment and Closure Act, Lance said polo there may only last another year.
However, for those interested in polo or supporting the Horses for Heroes program, the park will continue to run polo matches on a private field in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta.
For more information on the Horses for Heroes and Wounded Warrior program at Chastain Park, go to the Web site www.h4hchastain.org.