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Horses of UW

October 10, 2022
woman getting nuzzled by a pony
Cowboy Joe handler Elizabeth Renkert is an agricultural communications and journalism major from Kaycee, Wyo. (Photo by Emily Edgar)

Cowboys, cowgirls and horses are synonymous with the state and university.


By Micaela Myers 

No animal-themed issue of the magazine would be complete without a feature devoted to horses. The Cowboy State gave birth to the University of Wyoming Cowboys and Cowgirls, and over 100 years ago, the famous bucking horse symbol — based on a real horse — came to represent both Wyoming and its university. UW’s ties to horses go beyond Steamboat, with a strong rodeo team and multiple horse mascots. Meet them all here. 


A bucking horse image first appeared on Wyoming National Guard equipment in France during World War I. It’s believed that Wyoming’s famous bucking horse symbol owes its roots to a 1903 photo of the bronc Steamboat ridden by cowboy Guy Holt, taken at the Albany Country Fair by UW Professor B.C. Buffum. In 1921, UW Athletics Manager Deane Hunton used the image to create a silhouette for UW baseball team uniforms. A bucking horse began to appear on license plates in 1936 and on UW football helmets in the 1960s. 

Steamboat earned his name due to a nose injury that caused him to make a whistling noise when he bucked. The black horse with white stockings was known as a ferocious bronc with a signature move: planting his front feet and kicking his hind legs sky high. Sports Illustrated featured him in 1970, and his likeness appears on nearly 600 million U.S. quarters. 

Rodeo Team

The rodeo tradition is alive and well at UW. The team’s achievements include six-time College National Finals Rodeo champions and ’19, ’20 and ’21 Central Rocky Mountain Region men’s and women’s champions. The team is based at the 47,500-square-foot indoor Hansen Arena, where team members have access to over 100 head of practice stock and a boarding facility for their horses.

“It’s an amazing team environment,” says elementary education junior Lily Van Ness of Steamboat Springs, Colo. “We all cheer for one another. We all push each other to be better.”

Van Ness keeps two horses at Hansen and competes in barrel racing and breakaway roping, the latter of which she took up just last year.

woman barrel racing on a horse
UW rodeo team member Lily Van Ness competes in barrel racing and breakaway roping. (Photo by TK210 Photography)

“I roped the dummy till my hands bled,” she says. “It became my favorite thing. The entire team got behind me.”

Van Ness didn’t grow up in a horse family but traded lessons for barn work.

“I bought my first barrel horse when I was 14 and started going to high school rodeos,” she says. She became a two-time state finalist in barrel racing and pole bending. Van Ness came to UW with her barrel horse Dan, a 9-year-old appendix quarter horse gelding.

“He’s the coolest barrel horse I’ve swung my leg over,” she says.

Last year, Van Ness purchased a young quarter horse mare that teammate Austin Hurlburt helped her train for roping.

“She eats cows for breakfast,” Van Ness says. “She loves to chase cows.”

Having horses at school and being a student-athlete come with challenges.

“You have workouts at 5 a.m., then go feed your horses, then to classes, then practice, then study hall, then you feed your horses again,” she says. “But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love having my horses here and being on the rodeo team. I think I speak for every kid on the team when I say our horses are family.”

Hurlburt, a spring agricultural communications graduate from Norfolk, Neb., competed in steer wrestling, team roping and tie down roping. He qualified for the College National Finals Rodeo and earned a championship in tie-down roping in the Central Rocky Mountain Region. Next, he hopes to make the top 50 in world standings. 

“I grew up around horses on a small family farm,” Hurlburt says. “My dad worked at a feed yard, and I was always going to work with him and riding a lot of different horses.”

He competed in high school and then joined the Laramie County Community College rodeo team before transferring to UW. Both Hurlburt and Van Ness praise the three coaches: Head Coach Beau Clark, Women’s Coach Casey Rae Reimler and Rough Stock Coach Tyler Corrington.

Hurlburt cared for 11 horses at the Hansen — six of his own and four others he helped train. His personal horses include his roping horse General Lee, a 9-year-old quarter horse, and his steer wrestling horse Blue Moon, a 12-year-old grade horse.

“I think something that’s unique about rodeo is that it doesn’t matter what event you’re in, the camaraderie and friendship between all the competitors is unreal,” he says. “Someone is always willing to lend a helping hand.” 

Cowboy Joe Pony

UW’s best-known horse mascot is the feisty Shetland pony Cowboy Joe. He first came on the scene when War Memorial Stadium opened in the fall of 1950. Over the years, all five ponies who have served as Cowboy Joe have been donated by the Farthing family of Cheyenne. Cowboy Joe is a fixture at football games, parades and other events.

When the 10-year-old pony isn’t galloping across the end zone to celebrate a Cowboys’ touchdown or taking part in his many other public-facing events, Cowboy Joe likes hanging out with his best friends, the Haflinger wagon team Pistol and Pete. The little dude hates standing still and fireworks, but he loves kids and a good scratch behind the ears. When he hears the Western Thunder Marching Band launch into “Ragtime Cowboy Joe,” he gets excited and knows it’s his time to shine.

person riding horse and carrying a flag on football field sidelines
Lane Romsa and War Paint at War Memorial Stadium.

About six years ago, a new horse came on the scene: a flashy paint charging across the field at the start of each football game. The starring role first went to the paint horse Hawk, but he recently retired, replaced by the 4-year-old paint horse/percheron cross named War Paint. Both are owned by the Romsa family, and Lane Romsa loves the adrenaline rush of riding in the games.

War Paint lives near the Laramie River and even has his own padded stall. When it’s not football season, you can find him moving cattle or riding in parades. Although just a youngster, War Paint is naturally calmer than his predecessor. But when he gets on the field, he pulls out the flash and loves being the center of attention. 

Pistol and Pete

Not all horses play football. To celebrate the 125th anniversary of agriculture extension at UW in 2016, a team of haflinger horses named Pistol and Pete was purchased to pull the historic sheep wagon and serve as mascots. That team has since retired. The current Pistol, age 7, and Pete, age 6, travel the state to the various agriculture experiment stations and events. Their home base is the Laramie extension center, where they pull a hay wagon to feed the livestock and teach students how to drive a team.

“We really feel like UW has something special going on with our equine ambassadors and mascots,” says Laramie Research and Extension Center Assistant Manager Elias Hutchinson. “Our traditions and events would not be the same without them.”

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