Yup, I graduated from USC so Traveler is dear to my heart.
At football games, the band would play the Trojan Fight Song and out would race pure white Traveler carrying a man dressed in Charlton Heston’s Ben Hur costume.
C’mon!? Charlton Heston’s uniform?!
Uh huh! Only in Southern California…
Just imagine it… a brass and percussive intensive, HUGE, award winning marching band playing the thrilling fight song of your winning team and then seeing a magical white horse thundering past with his authentically (per the movies) dressed Trojan rider raising his sword as the crowd erupts in monumental cheers.
It was truly AWESOME. Seeing Traveler run the stadium was EPIC!
I remember it so well and that was long ago…
HOW DID THIS START?
Well, most people think it started in 1961 with a brilliant marketing move spearheaded by Bob Jani, USC’s director of special events, and Eddie Tannenbaum, a junior at USC.
But, in reality Traveler was not the first equine mascot for Troy. The first appearance of a white horse at a Trojan football game happened in 1927, when Louis Shields began a four-year stint aboard a horse owned by a local banker. In 1948, band director Tommy Walker once had USC colors carried by a Trojan on a palomino. Then, before kickoff of the 1954 USC-Pittsburgh game, Arthur J. Gontier III, then a member of the Trojan Knights spirit group (subbing for another rider who backed out at the last moment), shakily rode a rented gray/white horse while donning a costume once worn by actor Jeff Chandler. A more accomplished rider, USC alum Bob Caswell, and his white horse, Rockazar, took over the following game and performed until retiring in 1959.
Anyway, the ‘tradition’ began in 1961. Story has it that Jani and Tannenbaum spotted Richard Saukko riding his white horse, Traveler I, in the 1961 Rose Parade. They persuaded Saukko to ride his white horse around the Coliseum during USC games, serving as a mascot. Ever since, whenever USC scores, the band plays “Conquest” and Traveler gallops around the Coliseum.
That is what I remember! When USC would score a point, the crowd would go wild and with all that emotion and adrenaline in the air, Traveler would come galloping out and circle the track like the most incredible fist pump imaginable.
Sadly, when they renovated the Coliseum, the exterior running track was removed and Traveler had no clear path to do his thing. Traveler still makes his way around the field but has to move cautiously to avoid people on the sidelines. The horse had a minor collision with a person in 2000, and afterwards has had human spotters running in front to clear a path.
That just seems to take the thunder out of it, doesn’t it? I mean, who wants to have a guy running out front of Traveler? What does Traveler do now? Trot?
But, I haven’t seen a game since they took out the track so I’m not complaining – yet. Besides, what’s done is done.
WHO IS TRAVELER?
The current Trojan mascot is Traveler VII. He is an Andalusian trained by Joanne Asman (website linked here). Asman trains equines for special events. In fact, if you wanted to have Traveler at your birthday party, let’s say… you could book him! Traveler has an appearance schedule which you can check on the website…
It makes sense that Traveler would need an event type equine trainer because he has to be desensitized to just about everything for him to perform at the megaloud Coliseum or during the famous Rose Parade…
Previous to Asman, Patricia Saukko DeBernardi (Saukko’s widow) was Traveler’s owner and trainer until she retired following the 2002 season. She asked Joanne Asman to take over with her own Traveler (the Andalusian) in 2003. Asman also houses the horse for USC.
The earlier Travelers (I through VI) trained by Saukko ranged from an Arabian/Tennessee Walker to a pure-bred Tennessee Walker to a pure-bred Arabian. Since 1961, Traveler’s color has always remained pure white.
I cannot imagine thundering around the USC football field during a game. I would be scared out of my mind! I swear, if Finn saw a flash from a camera or had a foam finger thrown at him, he’d freak. I’m sure Traveler has seen it all! I bet his riders have had many, many stories.
The original Traveler’s rider, Saukko, stopped riding after the 1988 season (he passed away in March of 1992). His successors have been Cass Dabbs, Rick Oas, Tom Nolan, Ardeshir Radpour, Chuck O’Donnell (Saukko’s stepson) and current rider Hector Aguilar.
For his 1961 game debut, USC used its connections to the film industry to procure the costume worn by Charlton Heston in Ben Hur two years earlier. The costume proved to be too heavy for extended use, so Saukko made his own leather uniform for the 1962 season designed after the Tommy Trojan statue on campus. That same costume has been used ever since ( Ugh. How could it fit every different rider and it must be really tatter by by now….). The riders still sometimes wear Heston’s helmet.
THE COMPETITION HATES HIM
It has been said that every opposing team hates to see Traveler come through that tunnel…
“(Former USC coach) John McKay didn’t want to admit that the horse had anything to do with his success,” said Saukko, “but he’d always give me a wink when he saw me waiting in the Coliseum tunnel.” Added former USC All-American defensive back and assistant coach Nate Shaw: “The horse is one of the greatest inspirational devices USC has. It definitely got the adrenaline going when I was playing and I think it still has an effect on the players. When I was coaching against USC (at Oregon State), we hated to see that horse come down the tunnel because it got USC a little more pumped up.”
Added former USC All-American defensive back and assistant coach Nate Shaw: “The horse is one of the greatest inspirational devices USC has. It definitely got the adrenaline going when I was playing and I think it still has an effect on the players. When I was coaching against USC (at Oregon State), we hated to see that horse come down the tunnel because it got USC a little more pumped up.
I believe it! Having been to many games with Traveler, I have to say that his appearance made the stadium ROAR!
Traveler not only appears at Trojan home football games (and even at some away games, including the 1995 Cotton Bowl in Dallas and the 2005 Orange Bowl in Miami, the farthest Traveler has traveled), but also at other Trojan events, as well as at grade and high schools, charity functions and parades (including the past 51 Rose Parades). Traveler has also appeared on screen including “The Asia Music Awards,” “Road To El Dorado,” “The Battle of the Gunfighter” and “Snowfire”, on stage including in the Long Beach Ballet’s “Nutcracker Ballet”, in commercials, in print (Vogue magazine) and at personal appearances with many celebrities including Janet Jackson, Jamie Foxx, LeeAnne Rimes, Fabio and Fred Roggin.
In the fall of 2004, USC alumnus Bill Tilley (’61) and his wife, Nadine, donated $2 million to provide a permanent endowment to support Traveler. Bill is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Jacmar Companies, a multifaceted international restaurant and food service enterprise and majority owner of the highly successful B.J.’s Restaurant and Brewery.
Nadine is an avid breeder of champion Andalusian horses (her website linked here). She and Bill hope that a future Traveler will be bred at Tilley’s Andalusians, her Hemet ranch that is now known as “The Home of Traveler.”
I found this video of Traveler although there is no music so it really isn’t as inspirational as when you are actually in the stadium. But, it was still fun for me to watch. You might like to watch it, too.
You can get a signed autograph from Traveler three hours before every game (not really). But he is available for a pet and a photo op about three hours before every home game at Gate 11.
Traveler has a Facebook page which I’ve linked here.
And, you can buy Traveler merchandise on Ebay!
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