From being credited as the most astonishing entrance into a bowl game to being an honored tradition at football games, the Masked Rider has been a revered icon at Texas Tech University and in the Lubbock community. But this story isn’t about the rider.
The horse, named Fearless Champion, is the 14th horse in this tradition to carry the Masked Rider. Whether it is smiling on the street for pictures or running in front of 60,000 fans, Fearless takes this job by the reins.
“He knows his job, and so for him that’s just another day in his world, and you just get to be a part of it,” said Lyndi Starr, the 2018-2019 Masked Rider.
A good diet is at the foundation of Fearless’ success. Starr makes sure Fearless gets enough to eat to maintain a healthy weight. She also schedules his meals based on what is happening each week in his ever-changing schedule. She takes into consideration not only the game or appearance time, but also his training because you can’t work on an empty stomach.
While Fearless would sometimes rather watch students herd cows all day, Starr makes sure to get in proper training time. Whether it’s in the livestock arena, Texas Tech Equestrian Center or just around campus, Fearless works on building his stamina so he can ride out his 300+ scheduled appearances. Starr also makes sure Fearless is healthy mentally and socially. While people surround Fearless during his appearances, he also needs some one-on-one time.
“He lives by himself, so I try to spend as much time with him as I can so he has some contact,” said Starr.
While Starr is the major caretaker of Fearless, she does have some helpers maintain safety at appearances. They do anything from maintaining a safety bubble to picking up after Fearless. Starr and Fearless need all this help because when football season rolls around, it’s a whole other ball game.
Game-Day Prep & Safety
Before Fearless and Starr can even think about walking onto the field, they need to meet with the rest of the key members involved with the Masked Rider Program on football days. These include on-field vets, band directors, broadcasters and cameramen, and even high profile Texas Tech Athletics personnel.
One of these key players is Stephanie Rhodes, the Texas Tech spirit program director. Just from walking into her office, anyone can tell she has school spirit and pride for Texas Tech and the Masked Rider Program.
“The thing that I never really realized as a fan coming into this was how much goes into that 10-second run and how many people have to be doing their jobs just right for that to happen,” Rhodes said.
She meets not only with cheer squads and Starr, but with Texas Tech Facilities personnel as well. Sandy Collins, associate athletics director of event operations, handles the facilities staff on game day. Collins says a key part of maintaining safety on the field is communication, whether that’s with her staff, Rhodes, or the well-respected Sam Jackson, Ph.D.
While Jackson, a professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, was not initially apart of the Masked Rider Program when he started teaching at Texas Tech, he brought sweeping changes to the safety protocols in the program after an accident in 1994.
“They asked me to help come up with a new plan and new ways of doing things,” Jackson said. “The problem was that football game atmosphere changed, and it got a lot busier and a lot more people and a lot more involved, and we kept doing the same thing.”
Ever since then, Jackson has continued to improve and edit his safety protocols, and has pushed the Masked Rider Program to be one of the best in college sports. Due to his ever-improving safety protocols, no other serious accidents have happened. The small incidents that have occurred, like Fearless’ leg injury past season, resembles a freak accident more than having an unsafe condition.
Texas Tech vs. All Y’all
One of the vital aspects Jackson admires about the Masked Rider Program is the connection with the students.
“I think that the fact we have a student on the horse is a big part of the value of our mascot,” Jackson said. “We don’t want to just have somebody on a horse.”
At the University of Southern California, the rider is a trained professional instead of a student. In Oklahoma State University’s case their horse for the Spirit Rider lives and is cared for in Tulsa instead of on their campus in Stillwater. While these programs have their own noteworthy points to them, Fearless Champion and the Masked Rider have a deep connection not only with the university, but as partners as well.
“I think that the integrity of the one person that’s highly committed to this animal, cares for it daily,” Jackson said. “I think that understanding and that communication between those two is probably unique to our mascot situation.”
Even though he is treated as “a little prince”, as Rhodes puts it, he never loses his sense of adventure. Recalling one of her first appearances with Fearless and an 8-foot-tall handmade butterfly bicycle, Starr saw first hand Fearless’ commitment to his name. At one of her first appearances, Starr and Fearless were asked to take a picture with the bike.
“I timidly walked up there, and Fearless just walked up to him like it was nothing else,” Starr said.
Even with the fan and his strange bike, Fearless was open toward him, and Starr was inspired from then on.
From that day forward he kinda instilled in me to just be Fearless.
Whether it’s running on the field or hanging out at an appearance, Fearless loves his job and everyone he meets. With the help and guidance from Starr and the rest of the committee, he represents the best of Texas Tech University and truly embodies a Fearless Champion.