KALAMAZOO, Mich.—He's been patrolling the Western Michigan University campus for years, and on Saturday a new brown and white steed will lead the charge onto the field at Waldo Stadium as the Broncos look to lay down the law on the Redbirds of Illinois State.
The equine formerly known as Johnny Cash—a towering, 1,200-pound tobiano paint horse—will transform into Triumph for the Broncos' home opener Saturday, Sept. 11, galloping into a role left vacant by the retirement of the horse that originated the tradition in 2011. Haley Lesiow, president of Western's equestrian team, was tapped to take the reins this season.
"I'm nervous, I won't lie, but I'm just so excited," says Lesiow, a senior special education major from Battle Creek, Michigan. She's been riding horses in competitions for 10 years but has never done something quite like this. "I trust Triumph. I think we can make a great team."
The pair has been training together for several weeks to prepare for the sights and sounds of game day.
"Not just any horse can do this; they are fight or flight animals," Lesiow explains. "Western literally shoots off a cannon during games, so it takes a special horse."
Triumph's training with the Kalamazoo County Sheriff's Mounted Division makes him uniquely qualified for the job. His owners, Guy and Abby Santek of Santek Ranch in Galesburg, Michigan, are part of the Kalamazoo County Sheriff's Department's Mounted Division where he's been Abby's partner on patrol for the past five years.
"He has that personality that's really laid back and able to deal with whatever rolls his way as well as the confidence to be Triumph and go out in front of everyone," she says. "And he's already a Western fan. He's up at the top of the hill for tailgating just about every game."
Now he'll get his turn on the field, bolting out of the tunnel ahead of the Broncos as they head into battle for every home game. Lesiow can't think of a more fitting way to kick off her final year at Western.
"I am just so grateful for the experience," Lesiow says. "I love Western, so I'm happy to support and represent the school."
Lesiow will lead Triumph on their first assignment Saturday. Kickoff against Illinois State is 5 p.m.
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