“We don’t treat him any differently because he’s a mustang,” equine supervisor Natalie Baker said. “We are going to treat him like we do all the other horses as far as helping him learn through repetition and taking care of him on a daily basis in order to prepare him to be our mascot.”
Special to Mustang News
Residing in stall 13 is the biggest superstar on campus: Moonstar, a mustang — donated by a Cal Poly alumnus — that’s being trained by students to become the university’s live mascot.
Equine supervisor Natalie Baker teaches an animal science class about equine management, where her students learn about taking care of horses at the introductory level. In the class, her students assist by helping to train Moonstar and other formerly wild horses as they prepare to become Cal Poly’s official mascots.
“I think that (having a live mascot) solidifies the fact that we have a ‘Learn by Doing’ program and it is going to improve student involvement and increase our Poly pride,” Baker said.
The school hopes to encourage the animal science students to expand their abilities in animal care by tending to Moonstar.
The students in the equine management class ensure Moonstar is cared for and trained. They clean the stalls, groom, saddle and ride him — everything except feed him, which the employees do. The class takes more than two hours and is held twice a week. They also walk and ride Moonstar in the fields and arena on a daily basis for exercise.
“It’s a process,” Baker said. “We don’t treat him any differently because he’s a mustang. We are going to treat him like we do all the other horses as far as helping him learn through repetition and taking care of him on a daily basis in order to prepare him to be our mascot.”
While taking care of Moonstar can be a lot of work, Baker said the students involved enjoy it.
One of Baker’s students is business administration senior Emily Newman.
“I love it,” Newman said. “It’s the best part of my week, and it’s my only class of the day, so it’s like I have no classes on those days.”
This is not the first time Moonstar has been ridden, and he has been cooperative in training so far. The other horses used for the class are a bit older and more slow-paced, whereas Moonstar is ready for training and safe to ride.
“He hasn’t done anything (bad), thank God.” Newman said. “There haven’t been any scares yet, which is a good thing. I don’t want any interesting stories to tell.”
In addition to involving the students in the animal science program, alumni and donators Robin and Michelle Baggett hoped the live mascot would increase school spirit. The idea is that having a live mascot at athletic events will draw a larger audience — not only to watch the game, but also to see Moonstar.
The school hopes to reveal Moonstar at the start of the 2014 football season, and according to Baker, it is going to take every day up to that point to get him ready.
Two-year-olds “Cal” and “Poly” are two other mustangs recently picked up from the Ridgecrest Bureau of Land Management facility to become part of the Mustang Program in hopes they will also serve as mascots. They are being held at the equine unit with Moonstar.
Once they take the field, all three horses will be known by one name, which will be determined by a naming contest currently being organized.
Animal science lecturer Pete Agalos — the primary caretaker of the mustangs is training the wild horses — along with two advanced juniors who have taken all of the riding classes Cal Poly offers. Because Cal and Poly are more wild than Moonstar, it will take longer to train them.
“It’s a new program.” Agalos said. “Whenever you enter anything new like this, especially when you are dealing with a wild animal, you kind of learn as you go.”
It is undecided what the exact job of the mustangs will be at the games. Right now, the focus of the program is to ensure the horses are tame enough to handle being around large crowds. Mustangs can take a long time to develop trust with their trainer, so it is unclear how long the process is going to take and what the trainers will be able to teach them.
According to Agalos, it is likely the mustangs will be a symbol at the games, rather than an entertainment piece.
“Probably what Cal Poly will try to do is preserve the idea of a wild horse, as opposed to a circus pony,” Agalos said.