The man on the horse
Charlottesville local trains and cares for
He strolls by parking lot tailgates on his bay thoroughbred horse, circles the field at every home football game and excites fans all across the stadium to cheer on their team. But who exactly is this man behind the Cavalier regalia? What about his stunning horse?
During the week, Charlottesville local Kim Kirschnick is a building contractor but on fall weekends he transforms into the man, the myth, the legend - the University's mascot, Cav Man.
Kirschnick, who has 20 years of experience riding horses and playing polo, has been using his polo ponies for his pregame appearances as the mounted mascot for the last 10 years.
The mounted mascot first appeared in 1963 when the U.Va. Polo Club provided both horse and rider. The tradition lasted for 11 years until the introduction of "AstroTurf" at Scott Stadium deterred the athletic department from allowing the horse to potentially damage the new footing.
Virginia football pregame shows did not feature a mounted Cavalier again until 1989 when the athletic department wanted to bring back the tradition as "something different from other schools, to make sure the fans got to the stadium early and have a more individualized pregame show," Kirschnick said.
The first game for Kirschnick was "nerve-racking" as he was unsure how the ride would go. He said even after 10 seasons, he still gets anxious waiting in the tunnel for the signal to enter the stadium.\n"I get nervous that something will go wrong," he said. "Horses can sense the anticipation."
Cav Man has appeared on three different horses throughout his current career: Little Woman (L.W.), Trinida and Lady Isla.
"I could never pick a favorite - they've all belonged to me and been a part of my family," he said.
The current mount, Lady Isla, is a 15-year-old mare nicknamed "Sabre" for the purpose of representing the University and maintaining the Cavalier persona.
Kirschnick trains Lady Isla by riding her six days a week and exposing her to all kinds of experiences to familiarize her with various situations.
"Horses are creatures of habit - if anything changes about a situation, they know it," Kirschnick said.
To prepare, Kirschnick takes her on trail rides, fox hunts and to polo matches where she can become accustomed to loud noises, crowds and any other unusual sights she might encounter coming out of the tunnel at the stadium.
Although Kirschnick said Lady Isla has given him some trouble in the past - specifically at her second home game, when she left the tunnel bucking and threw off her rider - he also said that it is difficult to find a horse who can "mentally handle it."
For many students, the entertainment before the game is just as important as the football. Third-year College student Chanel Parks said that she never attended football games much before matriculating at the University, but the spectacle surrounding the games is a big draw for her.
For Kirschnick, the job is all about seeing the excitement on all the faces of the thousands of fans, he said, adding that he likes walking around the parking lot as much as galloping out of the tunnel for the pregame show.
Parks described the school spirit at the University as "high energy." She said even when losing a game, people are still spirited. "It has to do with pride. People are excited to be here," she said.
Another experience Kirschnick said he particularly enjoys is meeting potential recruits at games in the tunnel. "These big guys, [who are] most likely from the city and have probably never seen a horse before, are intimidated by the horse," he said. "I allow them to pet the horse, which is a neat personal experience that hopefully the guys will consider when choosing a school in the future."
As for the younger fans, "little girls always say that the horse is so beautiful while the little boys want to know if the sword is real," Kirschnick said, adding that sometimes he will slice off a leaf on a nearby tree to intrigue the boys.
Kelly Farley, a fourth-year College student and Cavalier Marching Band drummer, said the pregame shows in the past four years have increased school spirit, not only for the band but also for the entire school. She said the enthusiasm of University fans at pregame shows is one of the reasons she has been playing with the band for four seasons.
Although she has never actually met Kirschnick, Farley said she knows the sight of Cav Man and Sabre storming across the field adds to the excitement of the pregame show experience.
"Watch the Jumbotron for the adventures of Cav Man," Kirschnick said. "I always win - it's great"