The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Tradition lives on with Peruna

 Tradition lives on with Peruna
Photo by John Schreiber, DC
Tradition lives on with Peruna

Tradition lives on with Peruna (Photo by John Schreiber, DC)

The black pony gallops across the football field, leading the team. He loyally follows the Southern Methodist University band, representing the soul of SMU as he parades on his way. Peruna the horse is the mascot of SMU come to life.

But, how many people actually know the history behind this beloved pony?

Junior Molly Phillips said, “I don’t know anything. I don’t even know where the name Peruna came from.”

The Peruna handlers are a big part of the tradition of Peruna. There are five Peruna Handlers, chosen by Spirit Squad leader Zac Brannon and experienced Peruna Handlers.

Junior Bryan Shnider said the handlers know where Peruna is housed, which is confidential information. They pick him up for every game, wash him, bring him to the game, care for him for the time he is out, and then take him back.

The mustang was chosen as SMU’s mascot in the early 1920s. As the secretary for SMU’s first president, Dr. Robert S. Hyer, watched the football team practice outside the window of the office, she commented on how much they looked like “wild mustangs.” It went to vote on campus, and the students elected the mustang as the official mascot of the university.

The name of the horse arose in a different way. Peruna tonic was a patent medicine in the 1920s. It contained about 18 percent alcohol, according to the Wikimedia Foundation. During the prohibition era, peruna tonic served as an alcoholic spirit disguised as a medicine. SMU’s mustang mascot’s name, Peruna, was taken from this drink. In the early part of the 1900s, the name served as a double entendre, suggesting the horse was the “spirit” of SMU.

Phillips suggested this information be given to students at some time during orientation. “You’d think they’d give you information at AARO [Academic Advising, Registration, and Orientation] or Mustang Corral or something,” she said.

In 1932 the actual black Shetland pony was chosen as the official horse to represent the Mustangs. Cy Barcus, director of the Mustang Band at that time and a 1929 graduate of Perkins School of Theology, saw the pony one day while he was out on a picnic. As he told The Daily Campus in 1985, he thought it would make a good mascot for SMU, so he had a student bring it to a pep rally. From then on, the pony was the SMU mascot.

There have been eight Shetland ponies that have represented the spirit of SMU since 1932. The Culwell family, who owns the clothing store Culwell & Sons on Hillcrest Avenue, has donated the last seven of them, representing W. E. “Cully” Culwell’s devotion to the school. The mascot lived on the Culwell family ranch in Grapevine until 1993. After 1993, the location of Peruna’s handling has been kept secret so as not to endanger the beloved mascot.

Peruna Handler Shnider said the Culwells are big benefactors of the SMU mascot. “Culwell still provides us with our uniforms,” he said.

The Shetland pony was chosen over the larger quarter horse as the mascot because Shetland ponies tend to live longer. Quarter horses live about 15 to 18 years, while Shetlands will survive for more than 25 years, according to the Dedman Recreation Center Web page of SMU.

Culwell preferred an entirely black stallion when choosing the next Peruna. The reasoning he gave was that stallions that aren’t castrated are more aggressive and thus will represent the spirit of SMU in a better way. These horses are hard to find because they are often castrated to make them easier to handle.

Shnider said of Peruna’s spirit, “I just want to remind everybody that it’s a pony, but it’s still 500 pounds of muscle. It’s still a ferocious animal.”

Peruna Handler Jonathan Dobin said of the job, “I love it. It’s actually a lot of fun. It’s hard work, but it’s a lot of fun.”

Peruna VIII, the current Peruna, perfectly embodies the spirit of SMU. The stallion is belligerent and tough to handle.

He made his first appearance on a football field at the Cotton Bowl in 1997. He began his reign as Peruna by tripping and dragging some of his handlers. His mentionable achievements include being the first Peruna to represent the Mustangs in Gerald J. Ford Stadium, finished in September 2000, and leading the Mustang Band at President George W. Bush’s Inaugural Parade in 2001.

Peruna only attends a small number of events besides football games, said Shnider. It takes time and money to move him and handle him.

Dobin said he enjoys being a Peruna Handler and being around SMU’s mascot. “I talk to him like an actual person. It’s kind of funny.”

Shnider said, “Being on the field, watching the game with a live mascot, it’s incredible.”

Peruna walks the boulevard before each home game and mingles with the crowd.

For more about Peruna and SMU Athletics, go to

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