The Walker family has been a dominate force in Santa Barbara polo for decades but something different is happening on the fields this season. During the 12 goal tournaments (held in May and June) the brothers Dan and Henry Walker, who are usually team mates, will be opponents – Dan sponsoring the team called Long Beach and his younger brother Henry as the patron of Famers & Merchants. Their father Kenneth (along with Ambassador Glen Holden and Dr. Norman Ringer) was instrumental during the 1970’s in preventing the club from being bought by developers who wanted to turn it into a mobile park and miniature golf course.
In 12 goal tournaments the total handicaps of the four players on a team adds up to 12. A polo handicap is different from a golf handicap in that it is not simply an average of scores. Equestrian skills and sportsmanship are also factored into the equation. Polo handicaps start at -2 and go up to 10. They are awarded by the regional handicap chairman.
The older brother Dan is rated 3 and his team mates are Dan Horn from Rancho Mirage a zero, Santiago Wulff, 5, from Argentina, and Andy Busch of Santa Barbara rated 3. Just in case you did the quick math on that and noticed it didn’t add to twelve – you don’t need to get out your calculator. Sometimes it is hard to put together a team that adds up to exactly the tournament level so it is evened out on the score board before each match begins. In this case Long Beach (which has a total handicap of eleven) will start with one goal in their favor.
Henry, who is rated two, has two local team mates Justin Klentner handicapped at 1 and Joel Baker a 2, Luis Escobar (a professional born in Costa Rica) is the fourth player carries a rating of 7.
Even though their father Ken played polo and easily could have given them grooms, the brothers were taught at a young age to do all the horseman’s work. They learned how to tack, clean, wrap the horse’s legs, tie their tails up, and yes - how to use a shovel. They now support the Santa Barbara Youth Polo Association which provides scholarships so high school and college age students (who don’t necessarily come from polo families) can learn to play the sport.
The two Walker teams will be competing against three other teams in the 2012 twelve goal season. Cotterel is sponsored by Jenny Luttrell, Hanalei Bay/Mansour co-sponsored by Ron Bonaguidi and Ben Soleimani and Antelope sponsored by Geoff Palmer.
Our economic malaise has even touched the pocket books of the king of sports. In more flush years we see teams with one sponsor (or patron) paying three professionals to play on their team. Now co-sponsorship of teams to disperse the costs is the norm.
The polo game (when played on the grass) is divided into six periods called chukkers. Each lasts seven and a half minutes. Players usually change horses after each chukker but sometimes stronger horses are “double-chukkered” or played for more than one chukker. A player may change horses in the middle of a chukker but the clock doesn’t stop.
Henry, the sponsor of Farmers and Merchants has twelve horses in the barn. “I bring ten horses to the tie up area.” When asked where he finds his mounts, he responded, “Luis Escobar helps me buy my horses; he knows what I like and brings them for me to try.”
“I don’t remember the first time I played polo with my brother Dan. He is twelve years older than I am and I started when I was fifteen, so he must have been at least 27.”
Henry’s son Charlie, who is twelve, is now learning to play. They played together in the eight goal season last fall.
Last Friday, during the Pope Challenge the younger Walker lost on field number one to his big brother. They will battle again in the Vic Graber Memorial (in June). After a break for the Fourth of July, when the fields will be aerated in preparation for the high goal season, they will join forces in the 20 goal tournaments.
The Current Standing for the Pope Challenge
Antelope 3 1
Cotterel 2 1
Farmers & Merchants 0 3
Long Beach/Palm Desert 3 0
Mansour/Hanalei Bay 0 3
During the July – August high goal season Henry and Dan will be bumping up the speed but taming sibling rivalry.
The next match at the Santa Barbara Polo Club will be Sunday, May 27th at 1:00. Lunch and drinks are available for the public to purchase. Tickets are ten dollars at the gate. Exit the 101 at Santa Claus Lane or Padaro and turn on to Via Real.