At each home football game, OU's twin horse mascots, two Welsh ponies named Boomer and Sooner, pose for photos with fans before the game and race onto the field to celebrate each Sooner touchdown.
However, when the game ends, the ponies disappear without a trace.
The whereabouts of the horses are a carefully concealed secret among OU's Athletics Department. Their stable's location is known only by a select few in order to prevent rival schools from harming them.
“We used to get emails about painting them certain colors or branding them,” said Charlie Taylor, assistant marketing director for OU Athletics. “If people knew where they were, general fans would just stop by, and then there would be thousands of fans getting pictures. That’s reserved for game days.”
The current mascots are Boomer and Sooner V, having taken the yoke from Boomer and Sooner IV after their retirement in 2007, Taylor said. Since their adoption, OU has taken every precaution to keep them safe.
“They are taken care of very, very well,” Taylor said. “We spare no expense to make sure they have the best of everything. They’re a state symbol as much as a university symbol.”
The mascots' safety is of paramount importance because they are irreplaceable: OU does not have a backup pair of horses.
“It’s different than what [the University of] Texas does," Taylor said, referring to Bevo, a longhorn steer that acts as Texas' mascot. "They have tons of cattle, and if something were to happen to Bevo, I’m sure they’ve got 10 more lined up. But right now we only have two ponies. If we had a guarded care facility set up on campus that would be different.”
Furthermore, neither horse can work without the other. They grew up together, they are housed together and they stay in the same stall together, Taylor said. They may not be twins, but they are the next best thing.
OU also refuses to name the ranchers who take care of the ponies, as they are well-known in the community. The ranchers are paid for their services, but their involvement is not a sponsorship, and the university does not want people to think they're advertising for them.
Although not much can be known about Boomer and Sooner’s care outside of game day, Taylor assures people they are well-taken-care-of and have a great time, both during and outside of football.
Each pony is fed 1.5 pounds of Equine Senior horse feed with four flakes of Bermuda hay every morning and evening. The pair are driving ponies and have never trained to be ridden.
"Each of them has a very different personality when they are in their pasture and when they are in the field," Taylor said. "Whereas Sooner dominates during game time, Boomer is more opinionated in her pasture ... although both are always ready to go [when] the guns go off!"
The ponies are fed, bathed and cleaned the night before each game and fed again in the morning. They are given water during the game and afterwards they go home, Taylor said.
The horses arrive on campus about an hour before the RUF/NEKS' Fan Fest does. They stay there for about two hours until their campus run. The horses are antsy before the run but they calm down after their first run, Taylor said.
They enter the stadium after the Pride of Oklahoma does and when a touchdown is scored, the ponies know the route and what they are doing, Taylor said. Once the command is given they know what they’re going to go.
The ponies are trained during the spring, but the training is more to teach the RUF/NEKS to handle and care for them. They are also trained and housed over the summer by the same people who train the Budweiser Clydesdales in St. Louis, Taylor said.
“We hold them in the highest regard and take care of them with the best factors and trainers in the state. They are unbelievably important to the fabric of not just OU and Oklahoma football but all over the country,” Taylor said.
The chief criterion when choosing the ponies is how they behave around people. A horse can run after a touchdown but it may be startled by 10,000 people around them wanting to take their picture.
However, purchasing new horses is not a pressing issue for the university.
“We haven’t had to address getting a new pair,” Taylor said. “This pair is doing great, and there aren’t any issues.”
Despite the secrecy surrounding them, the ponies represent a decades-long tradition of Sooner football.
“It’s one thing when the football team arrives,” Taylor said. “But when people see those two iconic ponies roll in, they know it’s time to win a football game.”