Horses are what Ryan Kerley loves most about polo. He has a special relationship with HiTop, his favorite and the one he counts on to start most games.
Ryan Kerley, a third-generation player, is hoping to continue his family’s legacy as a professional in the sport. Ryan’s paternal grandfather, whom passed away when Ryan was just a few months old, was a professional polo player. Ryan’s dad, Mike Kerley started playing when he was 16. He has been involved with the sport in many capacities since then, including as a pro, horse trainer, polo manager, junior polo manager and property manager. Mike has worked for the Mannix’s Triangle Bar Farms for the past 25 years and Ryan’s mom, Kerri is a polo photographer so he has grown up around horses and polo.
Ryan got his first pony when he was 4 years old and has enjoyed horses since that time. “I have always loved the horses. Every time we got a new horse, I wanted to go play it,” Ryan said.
His father took him out of junior polo when he was 7 or 8 to focus on riding. “He took me to the track and just taught me how to ride. He wanted me to know how to ride before anything else,” Ryan explained. “He wanted people to look at me and say, ‘OK, this kid is a pilot, he knows how to ride over anything else.’”
They likely do. His light hands and seat are hard to miss, and allow him to get along with almost any horse. A natural athlete, he also has great eye-hand coordination, which makes him an asset on the polo field.
Born and raised in Indio, California, Ryan excelled in a variety of school sports throughout the years. In addition to polo, he also loves golf and played soccer for his high school. Ryan attended the local public school until last year when COVID-19 hit. Now in 11th grade, he is continuing online school, which allows him more time to focus on polo. He still would like to attend college, with an interest in business.
On the polo field, Ryan has competed extensively in junior polo in both Canada and California, as well as National Youth Tournament Series games. Now he is playing 4-, 8- and 12-goal events. He has been on numerous winning teams and earned quite a few MVP awards along the way, including most recently in the 4 goal at Empire Polo Club.
This season, he played the 8 goal with Bush League. “It was such a great team and so fun,” Ryan said. “I played with them for two months and we went far every time. ... it was a great group of guys ... and in the 4 goal it was another great group.”
He is appreciative of each of the sponsors and pros he has gotten to play with and learn from, including Ulysses Escapite, Ryan Robertson, Jimmy Wright and Krista Bonaguidi.
“I lived with Krista Bonaguidi for two months at Memo Gracida’s and got to know them both really well. [Memo] put me through the ringer, so that was fun. I learned so much. It was a lot of work but it was a great experience. I am glad I got to know Memo,” Ryan said. “Krista picked me up again and we won another bronze together.”
Ryan says he admires Memo for his horsemanship and how he can make a horse dance. He also enjoys watching Camilo ‘Jeta’ Castagnola play. “He’s so fun to watch and so fast,” he said.
Grateful for the help he has gotten, he can’t say enough about all that Fred Mannix has done for him and his family. “Half my string is horses he shipped over from Argentina. He has put in so much effort to help me out,” Ryan explained. “He has helped me out with horses and opportunities. ... He is just a great guy and is so generous.”
Ryan is also fully supported by his family. His dad not only taught him how to ride and play, he is field side whenever he competes. “He’s my manager, horse trainer, vet, he’s everything. He is just the best he can be. Everything he does, he makes sure it’s for me, which I cannot appreciate enough,” he said.
Ryan’s older sister Hope takes care of Ryan’s horses and her boyfriend Mitch also helps out and drives the horse trailer when Mike isn’t available. Ryan admits that it hasn’t always been easy getting along with this sister and talking about horses because it was a competition between them.
“We’ve grown close this past year and a half. Now she’s part of the team and is very supportive,” he said. “I hate to say it, but she’s the best groom ever. She knows what to do every single time. ... She takes care of the horses, puts poultice on and makes sure everything is tidied up in the barn. She’s awesome.”
This summer, Ryan will be playing the 12 goal in Santa Barbara with the Farmers & Merchants team, along side Danny Walker, Matt Walker and Lucas Criado. Ryan’s dad will drive the horses to Santa Barbara and his mom will get the house set up for Ryan, Hope and Mitch. Then his parents will go back home and drive up on the weekends to watch him play.
Their barn currently has 10 horses, including two that were recently brought in from pasture to get ready for the summer season and are on loan from a friend. Four of the horses have been shipped in by Mannix within the past two years and his dad either trained or picked up the other four. They also have four green horses, all off-the-track Thoroughbreds, in pasture that will be ready for play next season.
“My dad says they are the best horses he’s ever ridden and they look the part too,” Ryan said.
Like most polo players, the family is always looking for new prospects. Ryan says his mom and sister shop online for horses and his dad has a friend at the track that contacts him if she finds a good prospect. Recently, the family celebrated the birth of their first home-bred.
The broodmare was a horse Ryan’s dad bought for Hope a couple of years ago, but the mare developed arthritis in its hock and could no longer be ridden. They made a deal with Cotterell Farms in Idaho, to breed the mare to one of its studs. Cotterell kept the first baby, born last year, and the Kerleys got to keep the second baby born in late March.
The family is enjoying the new bundle of joy. “I’ve never seen my dad so happy with a horse,” Ryan said.
When pressed, Ryan says his favorite horse is probably his mom’s mare, HiTop (see Polo Players’ Edition, May 2019 edition), who he starts out on every game. “She’s amazing. There is not a smoother horse. She’s not the fastest but she is very quick and she’s so flashy,” Ryan explained.
He also likes his sister’s horse Kaliope, who he’s played for the last couple of years. “She’s a little rocket. She’s so consistent and just a shredder,” he said. But he admits it is hard to choose favorites with the quality string he currently has.
When Ryan is not playing or doing school work, he also helps with barn chores. He said he is usually at the barn by 6 or 6:30 a.m. He helps clean the stalls and starts getting sets out by 7. He does whatever needs to be done in the barn, including feeding, then goes back to the house to do school work. He returns in the afternoon to take out more sets or ride singles, and helps clean the stalls and feed. He does homework in the evenings after barn chores are done. He also tries to keep fit, spending time working out in the family’s home gym.
Ryan hopes to continue in the sport, eventually making a career out of it, and later, start a family to enjoy the sport with him.
For now, he looks forward to the opportunity to play with a great team this summer, and enjoy some golf on the off days.
What about doing the things most 17 years olds are doing? “Honestly, I’d much rather be in the barn than anything else,” he admits.