Traveler is a commanding and gallant white horse carrying a Trojan warrior in all his splendid regalia. Together they embody the fighting spirit of USC football, celebrating every Trojan score with “Conquest” as its soundtrack.
This tradition began in 1961 when Eddie Tannebaum, a USC student, and Bob Jani, USC’s director of special events, spotted Richard Saukko riding the white horse at the Rose Parade. They convinced Saukko to ride the original Traveler at the opening USC home game against Georgia Tech and he continued as the Trojan warrior for 27 years.
The first white horse mascot for USC was long ago in 1927 when Louis Shields rode a horse owned by a local banker for four years. Other horse appearances were in 1948 and then 1954-1959.
USC also had a canine mascot named George Tirebiter, starting in 1940. He chased cars through the USC campus until he was run over in 1950. The Trojans enjoyed three George replacements through 1957.
Hector Aguilar is the current rider and seventh man to ride Traveler. Of course, the horses have changed also and Traveler VII will ride around the Coliseum this season. The pure white breeds have varied from Arabian to Tennessee Walker to Andalusian.
Here is what Aguilar says about riding Traveler VII:
I have had the pleasure of riding him off and on over the last three years, and he is very responsive to light cues, which makes him a joy to ride. I look forward to riding Traveler at the home games any chance that he's allowed, and to continue the great USC tradition.
Credit the future of Traveler as the Trojan mascot to USC alumnus Bill Tiley and his wife Nadine, who established a permanent $2 million endowment in 2004.
But, this tradition may have ended sooner if not for Patricia Saukko DeBernardi (Saukko’s widow). She was Traveler’s owner and trainer until she retired after the 2002 season. She arranged for Joanne Asman to take over with her own Traveler in 2003, and she also trains and houses the horse.
The first Trojan warrior outfit was actor Charles Heston’s costume from “Ben Hur.” Saukko made his own leather version in 1962 using the Tommy Trojan statute for inspiration. It is still being used today.
Anyone who has attended USC games is thrilled to see Traveler gallop around the Coliseum before and during the game to celebrate a Trojan score. Shouts of “horse, horse” and the victory sign fill the stadium.
USC athletes also are motivated by Traveler as noted by 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.
Traveler appears at all USC home football games, and occasionally at some away games including the 2005 Orange Bowl in Miami. Traveler also appears at many other Trojan events including charity functions, the past 42 Rose Parades, grade and high school events and in movies, commercials, print and on stage.
You can visit (pet and take pictures) with Traveler about three hours before the game at Gate 11. Here are some photos courtesy of Asman & Associates. You can also request appearances of Traveler here and merchandise is available at the Traveler eBay store.
Some of us were fortunate to attend USC during the early years of the Traveler tradition and the start of another super spirit group, the USC Song Girls, in 1967.
Seven young women were selected to cheer on the Trojan football team to victory. This has grown to 12 women, who perform three dozen new dance routines every year.
The Song Girls appear at all USC football, basketball and volleyball games. They also appear at rallies, university and alumni functions, television and radio programs, commercials and international performances.
USC is very fortunate to have the Song Girls and Traveler function as ambassadors of spirit and good will for the Trojan family.