The Denver Broncos have “Thunder,” the Arabian horse mascot. And the Kansas City Chiefs used to have “Warpaint,” a pinto that galloped around Arrowhead Stadium after every score.
Even though it may have been a one-night-only appearance, the Astoria Fishermen were the latest football team to have a horse trotting around the field.
“Simba” and his rider, Alivia Rickenbach, had the honor of carrying the American flag before Astoria’s recent homecoming game. It was Simba’s first public appearance since Rickenbach and her wild mustang competed in the Teens and Oregon Mustangs competition in McMinnville in early September.
Simba even received a first-class introduction at CMH Field, described to the crowd as a horse coming from “a wild herd in the Paisley Desert of central Oregon,” and representing “one of America’s oldest symbols, a wild mustang.”
Because of herd overpopulation among wild mustangs, he faced starvation and was part of an emergency gather.
Rickenbach — who has another horse named “Atheana” — took on the 100-day wild mustang challenge when she obtained the horse in May and went into training for the competition.
Since then, Simba has gone from wild to mild.
Rickenbach, a high school senior, worked with Simba a few hours a day. “I started just building the trust between me and him. You can’t really train a horse without having a trust, especially a wild one,” she said. “He had never been touched by a human.”
The land on which Simba was living “could only hold about a hundred horses, and there were a little over a thousand,” Rickenbach said. “Without water or feed, some were starving, so they rounded up about 900 horses.”
Just a month before the football game appearance — it was just a coincidence that the Fishermen were playing the Milwaukie Mustangs — Rickenbach and Simba teamed up for fifth-place overall in the teen riding division of the event in McMinnville. Rickenbach used the event as part of her senior project.
Rickenbach’s grandmother, Debbie Huffman, purchased Simba at the event’s auction and donated the horse back to Rickenbach. Proceeds from the sale were donated to Astoria High School’s Future Farmers of America and Oregon High School Equestrian Team programs, with each receiving about $2,000.
“I thought someone else had bought him, but then I found out my grandma did, so it was pretty emotional,” Rickenbach said.
For the homecoming game, Rickenbach first had to get an official OK from Astoria principal Lynn Jackson to ride Simba around the edge of the field.
“One day out of the blue, I thought it would be cool if I could carry the flag on a horse during pregame,” she said. “I had Atheana back then. When I emailed Mr. Jackson, we set up a meeting to talk about it. We discussed where I would ride, and he wanted me to practice so (Simba) could get used to it. The football and soccer teams were practicing, but Simba didn’t mind. He did OK.”
At homecoming, “they were having some technical difficulties with the speaker system. It scared me, but (Simba) could have cared less.”
Rickenbach’s 11-year-old sister now even rides Simba.
Rickenbach, who also raises and breeds sheep as an FFA project, hopes to get into veterinary medicine in college. She will continue to ride both Atheana and Simba on trails throughout the region.