Those familiar with Nacho Figueras may be accustomed to seeing him splashed across the cover of a magazine or racing across a polo field at top speed, but on Monday afternoon at Wolffer Estate Stables in Sagaponack, he moved at a more relaxed pace.
In a pair of worn Levis, a white tee shirt, and a pair of Toms, Figueras and his mount moved slowly around a small riding ring used by riders from the Center for Therapeutic Riding on the East End—known as CTREE—as he gave a one-on-one polo lesson to CTREE rider Declan Carey, 16, of East Hampton. Other riders from the program, which provides therapeutic riding lessons and equine-assisted activities to children and young adults with disabilities, along with parents and other supporters of the program were on hand to watch as Figueras showed Carey how to hold the mallet, hit the ball and even succeed at the more difficult back shot, used as a defensive play in polo matches.
Before the lesson, three other CTREE riders demonstrated the skills they have honed during their time in the riding program. McKenzie Simons of Montauk, aboard Kirolak, Johanna Rishel of Southampton, riding Mosley, and five-year-old Ryder Mesnick of Sag Harbor, riding Pumpkin, walked and trotted around the ring before Figueras brought two of his polo ponies out for the lesson with Carey.
CTREE riders vary in their abilities, with some, like Carey, able to ride independently at the walk, trot and canter and even jump, while others require more assistance, like Mesnick, who has microcephaly and uses adaptive reins for better control. But they all benefit greatly from equine therapy—Karen Bocksel, CTREE’s founder, said that Mesnick’s balance has improved greatly from his riding lessons, and it’s clear that riding brings joy to all of them.
Figueras said he was happy to donate the free lesson to CTREE, and said he was happy to share his passion for polo with Carey and the entire CTREE organization.
“I’m so happy we did this,” he said afterward. “It was great to see the kids and see what the program does for them. I’m a very big believer in equine therapy, so I’m delighted to see what a great job they do, and I’m happy to support this.”
If Carey was nervous about riding with the world’s most famous polo player, he didn’t let on. Before Figueras could finish giving him instructions after he first mounted, Carey cut him off, telling him he “knows what polo is all about,” which drew a hearty laugh from the spectators and from Figueras himself, who said maybe he could learn something from Carey.
Afterward, Figueras said he did.
“What you learn is it really puts things in perspective,” he said. “I love to do these things because it reminds you how lucky we are and how fantastic these kids are. I wanted to bring my own kids for them to see how great it is. It’s great to see one of my biggest passions in life, which after family is horses, and it’s great to see how horses can be so wonderful for kids who have some kind of disadvantage. It’s very good and humbling. It’s good for the soul.”