I am not a particularly big football fan, but you can be sure that this Super Bowl Sunday, I will be in front of the television rooting for the Denver Broncos…why? Because I’m a big fan of “Thunder”!
“Thunder”, as we know him, is technically the second live equine mascot for the Denver Broncos, thus, technically he is “Thunder II”. Registered as Winter Solstyce, he is a gray purebred Arabian gelding standing 14.3 tall. The first “Thunder” was also a gray purebred Arabian (though he was a stallion by the great GG Jabask), and he made his debut in September of 1993. The addition of the equine mascot quickly gained popularity with fans, who were dazzled as he led the team on to the field and performed his signature gallop from end zone to end zone each time the team made a touchdown. In 2004, at the at of 21, “Thunder I” passed the torch to the current “Thunder”, who by all accounts is doing a marvelous job filling his predecessor’s shoes.
Another testament to the versatility and trainability of the Arabian, “Thunder” has many duties as team mascot, including leading the team onto the field, performing after touchdowns, and occasionally after a field goal. With all of the crowd commotion and high end production value (including pyrotechnics, cheerleaders, etc.) of today’s NFL games, “Thunder” has to be as on his own game as the team is on theirs. Off the field, “Thunder” is also expected to perform graciously, including duties that range from greeting fans before the game (while his rider, Ann Judge-Wegener, signs autographs) to riding in elevators and entering hotel ballrooms for charity functions. He is also very fond of his fans, and enjoys meeting the young and old alike.
Both of the Bronco’s mascots were carefully selected for their temperament and trainability. They needed a horse that could “thunder” down the field with all of the spirit and fire associated with the idea of a “bronco”, but also could accept the high energy atmosphere, crowds, noise and other things associated with a typical football game. Trainers admit that “Thunder II”, unlike his predecessor, was slightly timid and nervous in the beginning. He shied at the numbers painted on the field, would attempt to jump every white line that he saw, and became extremely anxious around the cheerleaders. After a lot of training centered around desensitization and behavior/reward, “Thunder II” proved that he had what it takes to represent the team, and since 2004 he has been dazzling the crowds, though he still requires ground handlers to keep him calm when the crowd does “the wave”. “Thunder” resides at the Wegener’s ranch in Bennett, Colorado when he is not performing.
Normally, “Thunder” only appears at home games, but he has been granted permission to appear on February 2nd in New Jersey for Super Bowl XLVIII, and will at the very least, be leading the team on to the field, though it is still unclear whether he will be allowed to perform all of his normal “game duties” because the site is a neutral one for both teams.
So, whether you are a die hard football fan or not, tune in and enjoy the “Thunder” at this year’s Super Bowl!
Image courtesy of The Denver Broncos – http://www.pinterest.com/pin/43065740160280856/.[contentblock id=4]