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Cowboy Joe IV will pass along the reigns this football season

Irina Zhorov

With the start of football season, comes the start of Cowboy Joe’s work season. Cowboy Joe, if you don’t know, is one of two University of Wyoming mascots. He’s a pony with a lot of attitude who arguably has more admirers than the football players themselves. Wyoming Public Radio’s Irina Zhorov reports that the current mascot is actually Cowboy Joe four, and he’s passing the reigns to Cowboy Joe five.

IRINA ZHOROV: Cowboy Joe is University of Wyoming’s live Shetland pony mascot. He has four handlers to care for him and fawn over him. The lead handler is Kendra Winslow, who affectionately calls him Joseph…She prepared him for work on the morning of U-W’s first home football game…

WINSLOW: If he’d hold still he’d look nicer…Goodness Gracious. C’mon…Joseph. 

ZHOROV: In actuality there are currently two ponies and the handlers took them both, Cowboy Joe four and five, over to the stadium. Joe four started in 1992 and will retire mid-season because, says Winslow, he’s getting a little hard to handle.

WINSLOW: Can you feel it, is he pulling on you guys pretty hard?


WINSLOW: He just gets so excited, he knows this is his job and he gets so excited, that’s half the problem, but he really likes it.

ZHOROV: The pony runs out on the field after every touchdown. Last year, he pulled Winslow along on her stomach during the first game as he rushed out to do his victory lap. This year, he did the same to another handler before the game even started. 

Number five is still in training, so for the next few games fans will have the pleasure of admiring two ponies in Tailgate Park.

CROWD: You wanna pet him? Aw, he’s sniffing you. Awwwww.

Horsey’s so pretty!

Here, you want me to take your picture?

ZHOROV: One of the admirers happened to be Brian Heinz, from Torrington.

HEINZ: I did this in 1951.

ZHOROV: He was a handler for the original Cowboy Joe, Joe one.

HEINZ: We travelled all over the state. We went in the bars, everywhere, ahead of homecoming, we did a tour. Everybody said, bring him in, bring him in! So we’d just bring him right into the bars and have a drink, and if he pooped on the floor, he just pooped on the floor [laughs].

ZHOROV: Heinz turned to look at Joe five.

HEINZ: What are you calling him?


HEINZ: Joe? Ok. [laughs] That’s great. Can he run as hard and as fast as the first one?

ZHOROV: None of the Joes, it seems, can compare to Joe one.

The first Cowboy Joe came from the Farthing Ranch, about 45 miles north of Cheyenne.

FARTHING: Our first ponies were imported from the Shetland Islands. Then they came out with the family when the family came out here in 1903. 

ZHOROV: That’s Carol Farthing, who married into the ranching family in 1978. She flipped through photos of the Joes – who’ve all come from the Farthing Ranch – at a restaurant in Cheyenne.

FARTHING: This first picture was when they first gave him…This is my husband’s grandfather and his grandmother, playing with the pony there.

At one time we had over a 1000 ponies, largest breeder in the United States, of ponies.

ZHOROV: Deborah Amend, Superintendant of the Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historic Site, in Laramie, says the pony was given to the University in 1950.

AMEND: He was a brown and white Shetland pony and he was found nearly starved to death next to his dead mother in a large pasture in southern Wyoming. During his recovery the family decided because of his coloring, because was brown and white, and his perseverance made him an appropriate mascot for the University of Wyoming football team.

ZHOROV: Amend says that since 1950, Cowboy Joe, in his various iterations, has been the perfect mascot.

AMEND: Some people don’t understand it. Why would you have a little Shetland pony? It’s not very powerful. I mean when you say the Mustangs! Or you say the Broncos! That has a little…but when you say Shetland pony, you think of a little toy thing. I just think his blood lines, his tenacity, his disposition, his spirit, all wrapped up in this amazing little body, I think it’s just a great representative.

ZHOROV: Back at Tailgate Park, Dana Eberhard, agrees.

EBERHARD: I think he’s a fantastic mascot and I think he’s the perfect pony mascot because all ponies are naughty. Everything about Laramie and Wyoming is kind of rebellious…

ZHOROV: Farthing says ponies get this reputation because they’re so much smarter than horses. But the incoming Joe is more tranquil than outgoing Joe. While the handlers like this about him, Eberhard would prefer more mischief.

EBERHARD: I just met him for the first time this year and they said he was really calm, so maybe he has to learn some more rebellious behavior, I don’t know.

ZHOROV: Cowboy Joe five will officially take over mid-season. So when the Pokes score a touchdown [ambi], fans will get to see what their new mascot is really made of. For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Irina Zhorov.

Irina Zhorov is a reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. She earned her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and an MFA from the University of Wyoming. In between, she worked as a photographer and writer for Philadelphia-area and national publications. Her professional interests revolve around environmental and energy reporting and she's reported on mining issues from Wyoming, Mexico, and Bolivia. She's been supported by the Dick and Lynn Cheney Grant for International Study, the Eleanor K. Kambouris Grant, and the Social Justice Research Center Research Grant for her work on Bolivian mining and Uzbek alpinism. Her work has appeared on Voice of America, National Native News, and in Indian Country Today, among other publications.
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