October 16, 2012

Heritage Horse: JB Kobask (Thunder)

by Mary Jane Parkinson

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Fans of the Denver Broncos — and they are noisy and avid fans — enjoyed a most pleasant moment in September 1993. For the first time, they picked up the excitement of a dazzling white Arabian stallion dashing across the field, decked out in the blue and orange colors of the Broncos and looking for all the world like he enjoyed the occasion.

 The stallion who thundered down the field after each Bronco touchdown began his career as mascot for the team when he was ten. He was called “Thunder” and most Broncos fans knew him only by that name. In real life, he was J B Kobask (GG Jabask x Kom-Nitah by Komsul), owned by Magness Arabians near Denver who kindly loaned him as team mascot. At that time, Thunder was said to be the only live mascot of the NFL teams.

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Thunder’s routine at home games began with time in his corral outside the stadium so that people, especially children, could get acquainted with him and pet him. He was far more accessible than any Broncos player, and was the most popular Bronco, second only to John Elway, in those years. Next, he delivered the game ball to the referee during pregame ceremonies, then waited on the sidelines for his post-touchdown victory gallops the length of the field. And when he felt it was warranted, he would rear for the crowd, usually bringing down the house. 

Ann Judge-Wegener rode Thunder for most of his years with the Broncos, and she was sure she had the best job in the world. She described Thunder as “a really charismatic stallion with a huge ego. He is so bold and dynamic and has a sixth sense as to when he should be ‘on,’ but when he’s around kids, he just drops his head and lets them pet him.”

Thunder’s career expanded to the national scene as he appeared at two Super Bowls. At home, he led the 1998 Super Bowl victory parade in downtown Denver before 600,000 fans. He was part of the color guard presentation at the National Western Livestock Show and many other Denver civic events. Kids looked forward to his appearance at Christmas events, and he visited hospitalized children. Thunder traveled countless miles in his mascot duties and learned to ride in elevators and walk through tunnels. He appeared in ballrooms, hotels, and arenas, always performing like the true professional. 

The Thunder admiration society grew and grew, and his popularity was a plus for the breed as well as for the Broncos. Fans loved Thunder T-shirts, white background with a lovely color shot of Thunder and a pretty girl on the back.

In 2004, after 11 years in his mascot job, Thunder retired as the Broncos’ symbol of victory. He began to suffer from arthritis and could no longer handle the physical stress of his job. He retired to a new barn and paddock at Sharon Magness-Blake’s ranch in the Colorado mountains. 

The Broncos without an Arabian mascot? Not for long. Magness Arabians to the rescue, again. Sharon Magness-Blake donated Thunder II, a grey gelding for mascot duties. 

Thunder died in April 2009, at age 27, a much loved celebrity in the sports world and in the Arabian horse community.