Seattle Seahawks fans love another undersized Wilson: This one's a pony
Another undersized Wilson stars in Seattle? This one has blue and green running through him, too.
Sarah Kessler and Wilson the pony.
Sarah Kessler/ 12thpony.com
By Sam Gardner
Russell Wilson has captured the hearts of countless fans as he's led the Seattle Seahawks to consecutive Super Bowl appearances, but there's another undersized Wilson in Seattle who might be nearly as beloved in the Pacific Northwest as the home team's star quarterback.
At 29 inches tall, Wilson the miniature horse has built a huge following at CenturyLink Field and around Seattle over the last two years as the "12th Pony." He's a fixture at Seahawks home games and other Seahawks-related events around town, where he can always be found with his blue-and-green mane and tail -- colored with non-toxic, washable children's finger paints, of course.
Wilson is revered, not just among the fans -- especially children -- but among the Seahawks players and their families as well, with Richard Sherman's mom and Marshawn Lynch's mom among his closest pals. So when the opportunity arose for Wilson and his owner, Sarah Kessler, to make a trip to the Super Bowl this year, they jumped at the opportunity.
"He goes to every home game, but this will be his first game out on the road, and he wouldn't have missed it for the world," Kessler said Wednesday in a phone interview with FOX Sports as she prepared to start the 1,400-mile journey from Seattle to Glendale. "We'd have gone to New York last year, but the logistics -- it was too far to drive him in his trailer, but Arizona is not too far to drive, and we have a lot of friends and family down there."
Kessler rescued the 9-year-old Wilson five years ago and named him not after Russell, who was still in college at the time, but after the volleyball from the Tom Hanks movie "Castaway." Wilson was raised in an abusive home and spent most of his early life tied to a rope, but Kessler says the two immediately felt a connection, leading her to the name.
"I think that he knew that I rescued him," Kessler said. "I think he appreciated that, and the bond that he has with me, and the trust after the horror at home that he came from is absolutely unbelievable. We have him in environments where we have helicopters land over him. He's next to bands with drums. He goes on stage with live music and dance floors. He doesn't care about any of it, and he knows that I protect him and he trusts me 100 percent."
Sarah Kessler rescued Wilson from an abusive home.
Sarah Kessler/ 12thpony.com
Having grown up around horses, Kessler began giving horseback riding lessons and doing therapy work with horses when she was just 14. Eleven years ago, that passion turned into a business, when the mother of three started Dreamland Ponies, a local company that rents out miniature horses for birthday parties and other events.
However, Wilson never seemed to enjoy the party circuit, Kessler says, but rather, always thrived in one-on-one therapy sessions -- which Kessler donates -- and in big public groups where he was the only horse. So when Kessler got the idea to try to make him an unofficial Seahawks mascot, it seemed like a perfect fit.
"I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do with him, but he kind of figured it out," Kessler said. "He liked it when I'd take him out in public. We'd take him to Seattle and walk him around on the streets, in Pike Place Market, the busiest places, and he loved the attention. He was the most calm and the most happy out there, so the Seahawks thing, I came up with that. It was like, 'Why on earth has nobody ever done this?'"
And it has been a rousing success. Wilson has been at every Seahawks home game the last couple seasons and has even been in the stadium and in the tunnel, though he hasn't yet seen the field. Photos of Wilson at last year's Super Bowl parade went viral, and fans flock to see him before the head in for games.
In addition, Wilson is also active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and has the support of the Seahawks organization, though he's not officially associated with the team.
"People love him, they want to be near him and they want a picture with him," Kessler said. "He's kind of gone further than just the Seahawks. It's like he's Seattle's pony. Everybody in Seattle knows who he is, and I have people all over the world friend requesting him."
These football players, these tough, manly men, they see him and they just run up to him and hug him and want to take pictures with him. It's like they don't even know what to do because they're so excited when they see him.
That reaction and Wilson's growing fan base, Kessler says, make all the effort worthwhile.
"It doesn't matter who you are, what walk of life you're from or how old you are, everybody has the same reaction," Kessler said. "They literally gasp. These football players, these tough, manly men, they see him and they just run up to him and hug him and want to take pictures with him. It's like they don't even know what to do because they're so excited when they see him. And it's the same with the kids. Wilson is just, on every level, pretty spectacular."
Wilson's itinerary once he arrives in Arizona for the Super Bowl is somewhat up in the air. Kessler is bringing him to a children's hospital for a visit Friday, but plans to spend the rest of the weekend trailing the Seahawkers booster club, looking to be wherever the fans are. And if past experience is any indication, they'll be looking for Wilson, too.
As for the game, itself, Kessler has a ticket -- she says Wilson "has connections" -- but it's unclear yet whether Wilson will be able to join her inside the stadium.
"I've got a lot of people working really, really hard to try to get Wilson on the field," Kessler said. "But security is so tight right now, so I'm waiting for a phone call to see if that's going to happen. If it does, that's spectacular, but if it doesn't, that's OK too, because he's still going to have more attention than he can handle."
Either way, the trip will be a blast for Wilson and Kessler -- both of whom are doing exactly what Kessler feels they were put on this earth to do.
Wilson is a fan favorite in and around Seattle.
Sarah Kessler/ 12thpony.com
"He acts more like a dog than a horse, but he's a horse," Kessler said. "He loves to go out in the pasture and run and buck and that kind of stuff, but from where he came from to what he is, I've never seen anything like it."
"It's always touched me to be able to bring horses and people together," she continued. "I love what I can bring to people. I can bring that happiness and joy. With as crazy as this world is and has been for a long time, I bring something to it that is at such a different level. If someone is having a bad day and they see him, it's just changes everything. We get people screaming, crying, saying, 'That's the best thing I've ever seen.'
"I want to make people feel better and even more than that, I love making them happy. I love the reaction that they have with Wilson. I've rescued animals my whole life, and to be able to blend that with the world I'm involved in, there's nothing better in the entire world than what I'm doing, touching lives."