Behind the Masked Rider
By Troy Tarpley
Surrounded by kids beaming with excitement, The Masked Rider patiently poses for pictures under a tree. He carries on conversations with complete strangers as if they were old friends. Atop Midnight Matador whose mane shimmers, he waits in anticipation for the majestic trek across the field. The press and camera crew are motioned aside, revealing a path, cleared for The Masked Rider to make yet another successful and safe run. What seems like an easy ride is much more complex than most realize.
Mentoring a Legacy
A week before the game, in a dimly lit office, Stephanie Rhode, director and chair of the Masked Rider Advisory Board, meets with the Masked Rider whom she considers family.
“It is an absolute joy and honor to me, the relationship I have with The Masked Rider,” Rhode said.
Rhode meets with each Masked Rider for about an hour every week. During their meetings she mentors The Masked Rider, teaching him or her what it means to be the symbol of Texas Tech University.
“I teach them when you put the mask on, it’s not about you anymore,” Rhode said. “It’s about Texas Tech. About continuing a legacy.”
Rhode deals with more than 150 appearances, financial support, safety and insurance. She also trains The Masked Rider in proper conduct around children, the community and academic integrity in the classroom.
Caring for a Legacy
Veterinarian Tiffanie Brooks arrives a couple of hours before the game. As she walks up to the Frazier Alumni Pavilion, she gives Midnight Matador a once over, keeping an eye out for anything out of the ordinary. In between autographs and pictures, she slips past the crowd to check with The Masked Rider to see how Midnight Matador is riding today.
Checking on animals is nothing new for Brooks. Brooks serves as Texas Tech’s veterinarian for Animal Care Services and checks on every animal on campus once a month.
As Brooks, The Masked Rider, and the field safety team make their way down the tunnel to the field, Brooks keeps an eye out for anything that may spook the horse. Keeping the horse and everyone else on the field safe is her number one goal during a game.
“I get nervous when we start to line up,” Brooks said. “My eyes are constantly on the people standing on the field. I feel good about the horse; I know what he is going to do. I have no idea what all the people are going to do.”
Once the Masked Rider makes his first run, Brooks takes a small sigh of relief, but her work isn’t over yet. She has to prepare for the next touchdown.
“I will never forget my first time I was on the field for a run, my heart was just pounding,” Brooks said. “It’s a totally different experience being on the field.”
Continuing a Legacy
Three hours prior to a game he walks every inch of the field and sideline. Adjusting cords, moving benches, and talking to the camera crew, Sam Jackson thinks of everything that could go wrong, so nothing does.
Jackson serves on the Masked Rider Advisory Committee as the Animal and Food Science Department representative. Jackson’s duties are much more extensive than making decisions in a meeting.
“A week before the game, I get the schedule to The Masked Rider so he knows where he is supposed to be before the game,” Jackson said.
Jackson also makes sure the horse is ready, ensuring The Masked Rider has been exercising him and giving him enough reinforcement throughout the week.
“When you have a rider who takes care of business, it makes my job a lot easier,” Jackson said. “We have been fortunate to have had really good riders.”
Jackson also is in charge of the Masked Rider selection process. Jackson creates and grades the test, interviews each candidate and gives the driving and trailer test, he also selects the horse, when the time comes.
“Not only do you get the rush of the run, which is more intense when you are on the field,” Jackson said, “but you also get the satisfaction and relief of a good ride, and the crowd was able to experience that legend and tradition again.”