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Quiet-Minded: AFS Horse Expert Shares Advise on finding next Midnight Matador

Quiet-Minded: AFS Horse Expert Shares Advise on finding next Midnight Matador

When it comes to selecting a horse for Texas Tech’s next Masked Rider, the nature of the animal is just as important as the training. It’s an important point considering this week’s announcement that the university’s current and longest-serving horse mascot, Midnight Matador, is retiring due to a leg injury that hampers running.

“You’ve got to start with a horse that’s got a good nature about him, that’s quiet-minded, easy to get along with, doesn’t have a lot of bad habits, just a horse that’s gentle and quiet is one of the things you’ve got to look for,” said Sam Jackson, associate chair and associate professor with Tech’s Department of Animal and Food Sciences.

“After that, what we want is a horse that has actually done a lot of things before we get them, in other words, they need to be pretty broke. They need to have been in a lot of different environments so they’re not scared of stuff.”

Jackson works with the mascot and has served on the Masked Rider’s advisory committee for more than 15 years. He said training involves:
• Getting the horse to understand leg cues
• Getting the horse to know when to stand against the wall, stop and back up
• Getting the horse to respond in a timely, safe manner
• Testing the horse’s reactions to stimuli like loud noises and flags.

If Tech finds a horse that has a high level of training already, the time to learn the skills to be mascot can be short, Jackson said. The handlers will work with the horse daily to get it to a comfortable point. Quarter horses primarily have been used as the mascot in the past, and a thoroughbred could be used if one met the criteria. The black color requirement will rule out some breeds.

The official mascot of the university dates back to 1954. At the Gator Bowl on New Year’s Day, Joe Kirk Fulton rushed onto the field on a black horse, followed by the football team. The horse and the rider, who wears a black mask, bolero hat, cape and boots, have combined to reflect the area’s Spanish influence. Each year, they make about 150 appearances, traveling between 10,000 and 15,000 miles to represent the university.

Recognized by The Associated Press as one of the Top 10 “coolest” college mascots, the 13-year-old Midnight Matador has been featured on ESPN College Gameday, ESPN Road Trip, 60 Minutes, and in the American Quarter Horse Journal. In addition to home football games, he has run at home baseball games, the Alamo Bowl, and at Cowboy Stadium.

Midnight Matador was selected for the Masked Rider program in 2002 at the age of three from Hoggett Ranches in Bluff Dale. He’s carried 11 Masked Riders down the football field in the traditional team-leading entry including Jessica Melvin, Ben Holland, Stockard Moncibaiz, Justin Burgin, Amy Bell, Kevin Burns, Ashley Hartzog, Brianne Aucutt Hight, Christi Chadwell, Bradley Skinner – the 50th Masked Rider – and current Masked Rider Ashley Wenzel. Only Masked Rider horse Happy IV-II’s eight-year term from 1980-1987 is the closest in length of service.

Written By Brittany Hoover
Additional Reporting by Leslie Cranford

CONTACT: Leslie Thompson, chairman and professor, Department of Animal and Food Sciences, Texas Tech University at 806-742-2805, ext 224 or


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