Born into a true California polo family with over 60 years of generational history at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club (SBPRC) in Carpinteria, California, USPA Circuit Governor and former SBPRC president Daniel K. Walker is deeply interwoven into the fabric of the Pacific Coast Circuit. As CEO of his family’s Farmers & Merchants Bank and Chairman of the board, Walker is able to leverage his unique position as a team owner to drive exposure to the sport, bringing countless new spectators up close and personal with the game and its equine athletes on a regular basis. A third-generation polo player, he has two children, Matthew and Christine, who are carrying on the Walker family legacy of polo, his daughter the founder of Westmont University polo team.
Already in his fourth year of service as Circuit Governor, the busy Long Beach, California, native actively keeps his pulse on the sport, traveling annually to the desert to play at Eldorado Polo Club in Indio, California, over the past 12 years. Walker and his wife Linda were drawn together by their shared passion for equestrian sport, delving into the Thoroughbred breeding industry together to produce ideal polo ponies. Enjoying the game of golf and his toy Schnauzer named Wagner in his limited spare time, Walker is fully dedicated to preserving the future of polo in the Pacific Coast Circuit for posterity’s sake.
What attracted you to the role of Circuit Governor?
“I had been very active the previous 11 years inside the USPA before being elected as a Circuit Governor. I held various positions including National Handicap Committee Chairman, Governor-at-Large and Executive Committee officer and I enjoyed all of those relationships which dealt with the corporate side of the USPA. In my own circuit I was very well known because I’ve been playing in California my entire life at various clubs. I was getting a request from many of the Club Delegates that they would enjoy a change if I would run. I was running focused on a couple things that would benefit the circuit itself including communication between clubs and the growth of arena polo, which I felt was the simplest avenue to focus on for the growth of polo overall. That’s been my focus the entire time I’ve been in office.
Although being a Circuit Governor is a lot busier than being the National Handicap Chairman, I enjoy the role very much. It’s fun to talk to the club owners, Club Delegates and people who are passionate about polo. I like to hear the excitement and passion they have for the game.”
What is your equestrian background and how did you become involved in polo?
“Both my father Ken Walker and grandfather Gus Walker played polo so I am a third-generation polo player. Horses have been a part of the family for my entire life. My grandfather was playing polo in the 1950s so I just naturally was introduced to the equestrian world through polo.
I started riding horses myself when my father got tired of carrying me around! I rode my first horse at age four, a grey mare named Mollie. When I was nine years old my father purchased a cattle ranch and I was riding up to 20 miles a day, roping steers or calves for branding or vaccinations. I was given my first polo horse as a teenager at age 15, a 5-year-old mare that I had saved from a mud bog when she was born in a pasture. We named her Madelyn after the ranch she was born on. I won my first 12-goal tournament when I was just 16-years-old with all family members on my team.
I met my wife Linda at Fullerton College in Fullerton, California, while I was studying business. Like myself she was also an equestrian, showing in western saddle. When we enjoyed each other’s horse events I began to learn more about show horses and the western world. We then moved on to cutting horses which were fun to ride and compete. It wasn’t until my twenties that I became serious about playing polo.”
How did you become involved in breeding Thoroughbreds?
“Thirty years ago my family had five polo players that we were mounting so we decided to breed our stock. My wife Linda and I actually were managing that operation which led us into the Thoroughbred industry and encouraged us to try and duplicate some of the best Thoroughbreds we could find. My wife was also one of the top breeders in the state of California in the quarter horse industry. We ended up purchasing a stallion called Sir V and his sire was Sir Ivor, a very talented stallion that raced both in the United States and England. We acquired one of his sons which happened to be a perfect stallion for a polo pony. For 14 years we held the stallion at our home and bred a dozen mares a year through him. In five years we ended up with 60 horses so that’s how we provided horses to the family and ended up in the thoroughbred industry. Since then, my wife has remained in the business and has various Thoroughbred mares in Kentucky. If for some reason these particular offspring do not appear to be racehorses then I’m lucky enough to secure them for polo.”
Where do the majority of your polo horses come from?
“In 2012 I invited Lucas Criado to join me at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club to play in the 20-goal. He is still playing with me this year and he and I have put together an arrangement for horses which I purchase from his farm in Argentina. I’ve been in the process of buying horses from Criado over the last four years and that’s where all my newest horses come from. I’ve ownedmany champion horses over the years who have won Best Playing Pony honors and I continue to have success with the Criado horses.
In the 12-goal in Santa Barbara this year he is going to come play with me and bring his son Lucitas. Meanwhile I’m going to have my son Matthew so it’ll be two father and sons on the same team this season.”
Tell us about your favorite horse.
“My latest gems of horses are Santiago, a 15-year-old gelding and Josephina, a 13-year old mare. They are actually siblings sired by Sir V and out of a dam that came from Argentina which was given to me by Santiago Trotz. If we had had any indication of the horses that would come from that prodigy we would have pulled eggs and bred 100 horses, however we didn’t have a chance to learn of our success until after the mare had passed away. I retired Josephina last year and Lucas Criado was interested in her so I shipped her down to Buenos Aires, Argentina, so he could breed her and hopefully improve what she was. She was an outstanding filly.”
How do you use your platform with Farmers & Merchants Bank to introduce polo to the masses?
“It’s a joint venture as a team owner of the Farmers & Merchants Bank polo team. We actually brought 1,200 new spectators that have never seen polo before in the last year. We are focused on bringing our Farmers & Merchants Bank customers out to Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club and having them enjoy a day of polo without talking about banking. The one aspect that I believe is enjoyed by individuals the most is being introduced to the horses. What I try to do is to connect my guests to the horses by name so when they see that horse on the field they become engaged in the game through the horse. If I asked my guests to recall the names of the players they saw that day, in more cases than not they usually cannot remember. But if I ask them the names of the horses they’ll answer with two or three names.
In many cases a lot of the banking customers that I have, never get a chance to see me. I get to use my ‘celebrity value’ and let them enjoy seeing me on the field and introducing them to the sport of polo and the horses. We walk our guests straight to where the horses are, take them out and bring people up close and personal with them.”
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
“In the fall of 1990 I played in a tournament called the Wickington Cup at Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club. My teammates were all family and we represented four generations on one team; my grandfather, father, my son and I. My grandfather was 90 years old when he played that day and we won the tournament! He jokingly said he would have played better if I would have given him better horses.”
What have you accomplished already for the Pacific Coast Circuit that you are most proud of?
“I don’t think that I was ever trying to do something that would be an accolade or be remembered for Dan Walker being Circuit Governor. What I’ve focused on from the beginning is trying to improve the areas I identified when I ran, communicating with the clubs, trying to increase the number of clubs competing and putting on more tournaments so they can play together. Also, it’s been important to me to expand the focus of polo and create more playing opportunities for everyone. Something I’ve probably done more than others is bridge the gap between clubs and the USPA. I understand what my clubs are trying to achieve and I understand the goals and policies of the USPA. I have ways of finding a solution for them and accomplishing goals effectively.”
If you would like to get in touch with Danny Walker about your club he can be reached at Daniel.Walker@fmb.com.