Story by Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club Volunteer Coordinator Shannon McGraw, courtesy of the Morning Line

The Santa Barbara Polo Club in Carpinteria, California, opened its facility to over 260 horses, mules, cows, goats, rabbits, alpacas, llamas, and one bull during emergency evacuations for the Thomas Fire which began on Monday December 4. By December 5, the club was receiving phone calls requesting emergency evacuation assistance from horse owners through the Ojai Valley and surrounding Ventura area. Polo Academy director Jeff Scheraga and his wife Naima as well as another member of the club, Shannon McGraw, were dispatched to the fire area to pick up six horses from a burning ranch.


Upon arrival back at the club, dozens more evacuees were requesting evacuation assistance and requiring emergency shelter. The original evacuation shelter at Ventura County Fairgrounds was soon filled and Santa Barbara Polo Club opened up its facility to receive the overflow of horses and livestock. Polo manager Melanja Jones and General Manager David Sigman graciously opened up their stalls and facility to house animals in need of emergency assistance.

Normally housing 350 polo ponies during high-goal polo, the club has been operating on a winter schedule with only the polo academy ponies and a few year-round boarders in residence. The club quickly jumped from 17 full-time residents to over 260 animals of all breeds and sizes.

During this time, the Santa Barbara community quickly opened up their hearts and starting bringing supplies, shavings, hay donations, vet supplies, yard carts, buckets, brooms, rakes and shovels to make the barns and stables fully operational. Volunteers throughout Southern California offered their time and energy by helping maintain the facility in pristine condition, mucking stalls, feeding, sweeping, filling water buckets and hand walking horses.


Within hours the club became fully operational and was running smoothly. Local media sources helped spread the word of needed supplies and as a result the club was able to offer shavings, free grain, supplements, pellets and all hay varieties to all evacuee guests. Other volunteers and Polo Grill chefs have provided coffee, water, sodas, breakfast, snacks and lunch to all displaced horse owners, volunteers and polo club staff.

Due to winds over the course of December 10-11, the fire spread and the decision was made to evacuate all animals from Santa Barbara Polo Club. All evacuees were moved to Earl Warren Showgrounds to stay safe from the growing fires and continue to remain there under voluntary evacuation. “The Thomas Fire continues to rage in the mountains above the greater Santa Barbara area,” said Melanja Jones. “When I drove into the club Monday morning, I said hello to crews from Missoula, Montana, where they are very familiar with fires in big timber country, so that tells you this fire is being treated very seriously indeed. The club is a staging area for the fire strike team. We are all so grateful to have the firefighters on property working to keep the Santa Barbara area safe!”


It is a huge outpouring of support that so many club members, polo fans, and equine friends have come together to provide comfort and assistance to those in need. Recent victims of the Napa Fires have offered their support of hay donations, equine supplies and a truck and trailer filled with supplies which they themselves found helpful as they were undergoing similar conditions during their own emergency evacuations.

“Thank you to all for your generous support offers of help. We will continue to support on feed/supplies for evacuee horses from the funds raised from the very generous donations in the “Hay is for evacuee horses” GoFundMe and from PTCSB. I am going by the Fairgrounds every day to check on things and volunteer coordinator Shannon McGraw has been amazing, organizing down to the details of distributing salt blocks to horses to reduce colic risk. Thank you all for the support and love. Praying for rain!” ” – Polo Manager Melanja Jones


The USPA has been in contact with Santa Barbara Polo Club management and has offered the aid of the USPA Equine Welfare Committee’s Equine Disaster Relief Funds. For those who would like to donate to the relief efforts, Santa Barbara Polo Club as provided information on the following resources:

Santa Barbara Equine Assistance and Evacuation that is coordinating relief at Earl Warren:

Santa Barbara Humane Society:

Ventura County Humane Society:

Comprehensive list from CANTER, including groups helping with relief at San Luis Rey Thoroughbred Training Center that suffered a debilitating fire:

Those that wish to donate hay or shavings may call La Cumbre Feed 805-6871880 by Earl Warren directly or Jacobsen Feed 805-688-3081 to set up a hay/shavings donation. Jacobsen was one of the first to donate hay for Santa Barbara Polo Club, Piocho also donated hay, Zacara is hosting evacuee animals and other private facilities are also hosting animals.

Photos: Santa Barbara Polo Club

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