Ken “Doc” and Pat Walker, owners of Fox Valley Standardbreds in Sherman are the largest breeder in standardbred horses (the trotters or pacers that pull a sulky or cart) in the state.
Pat Walker, who grew up in Lockport, says she has “loved horses since I was a little girl. I’m a city girl who’s horse crazy. When the milkman came delivering milk with a horse and wagon, I’d beg him to let me give his horse the feed bag. I loved the way they smelled, the way they looked.”
Ken Walker was raised on a traditional family farm near Carthage. His father loved horses and he used to help neighbors with veterinary work. Ken went on to become a veterinarian, specializing in horses.
When Ken taught a night school class at Joliet Junior College on equine lameness and hoof care, Pat was a student. “I don’t know if I got an A in that class or not,” says Pat, laughing. “I called him six months later, and after 12 phone calls we finally got together.”
The Walkers married in 1966 and began traveling throughout northern Illinois for Ken’s job as a horse veterinarian. From 1964 to 1977, Ken owned a large animal practice west of Chicago, making house calls at the racetrack in the morning and visiting farms in the afternoon.
“One of the farms we went to was a standardbred brood mare farm, and the gentleman became ill,” says Pat. “We watched one farm manager after another let the place fall apart.”
In 1974, the Walkers leased the northern Illinois farm, near Maple Park and the Fox River, breeding 60 mares the first year and 260 by the next. In between, the state legislature passed the Horse Racing Act of 1975, promoting and providing financial incentives for Illinois-bred horses.
“We lived in town and went to the farm every day, a 20-mile drive,” says Pat. “When we lost our oldest son (17 years old at the time) in 1975, killed by a hit-and-run driver, we changed our whole life and moved out to that farm.”
The Walkers bought a nearby horse farm and sold it four years later. In 1990, the Jake Bunn farm in Sherman, then known as Lincoln Land Farm and which had been operated by John Cissna, was for sale. The Walkers bought it in 1991, bringing with them 200 horses and their Fox Valley theme – fox statutes sit on the concrete pillars overlooking the serene pastures.
The Walkers’ prominence in the horse business has a been a long climb. “We both came from meager beginnings,” says Pat. “Doc didn’t start college until age 25 because he couldn’t afford it. It took seven years for him to put himself through vet school. I never did finish college. We feel like we’re the American dream, proof that if you have enough intestinal fortitude to keep going through adversity, as well as good stuff, you really can make it.”
The Walkers say they derive the strength to run the business from each other. “Pat’s the best friend and partner a guy could ever have,” says Ken. “We do just about everything together, whether working hard or playing hard.”
The Walkers’ goal is to continue to breed and raise horses that eventually become winners. With few other hobbies, horses are their life.
Text excerpted from The State Journal Register, June 1995