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Behind the Rider's Mask

VTM caught up with the current Masked Rider to learn more about her background and what the position means to her.

Whenever most people think about the Masked Rider they only think about the kickoff at football games. While that is the biggest stage, the Masked Rider is so much more than just a person and pony show at sporting events: the Masked Rider embodies the essence of Texas Tech. I was lucky enough to get a chance to peek behind the mask and sit down to chat with the current Masked Rider Rachel McLelland about the coolest job in Lubbock.

Growing up in Albuquerque New Mexico, Rachel had been around horses since she got her first pony at the age of three. For the vast majority of her grade school years Rachel did her schooling in the nontraditional way. From first grade through high school graduation, McLelland had only one year of traditional schooling in order to more easily pursue her passion for showing horses. She went to online school starting in seventh grade and took dual credit courses in high school. The hunter/jumper events were her specialty, going through obstacles, including jumping over many as tall as four and a half feet. Her love for showing was more important than for her need for a normal high school experience. As she put it: "to do that was so special that I'd rather travel and show my horse than go to prom."

I assumed that with her background in horses and the recognition of the Masked Rider that she chose Texas Tech specifically to have the opportunity to be the Masked Rider. When she first looked at Tech as a freshman she didn't even know it was an option. It wasn't long into her career as a Texas Tech student that Rachel knew she wanted to be the Masked Rider. "It was my first college football game, my first interaction of seeing what the Masked Rider is known for. They're at orientation and check in, but it was my first time seeing the Masked Rider on the football field. I remember I was with my roommate and I looked at her and said ok I'm going to do this, and I was set."

To apply for the Masked Rider position, you must be at least a sophomore, but because of her dual credit hours Rachel was able to apply her first year at Texas Tech. She applied that first year but was not selected for the position. Instead, she was an assistant to the Masked Rider. Rachel told me being an assistant that first year was a blessing in disguise. It gave her a close up view of what the position actually entailed.

Rachel was roommates and close friends with last year's Masked Rider MacKenzie White while she was an assistant, affording her the opportunity to see how much time an effort it would take to fill the position well. Even though the position is incredibly time intensive and exhausting at times Rachel said "it's definitely worth it. It was one of the best decisions I've ever made and I wouldn't trade it for anything. Working as the assistant was kind of an eye opener, but in a good way."

If you want to apply for the position you had better be patient. The entire process takes around four months, starting in early January and ending around the middle of April. The initial application is online to check for the simple requirements: you must be a student at Texas Tech University in good standing with a minimum GPA of 2.75. After those first checks there is a written test to determine the applicant's knowledge of horses, their care and their feeding. Only the Masked Rider sees the horse on a daily basis, so being able to assess Fearless Champion's health and dietary needs are essential for the Masked Rider. In order to be considered for the position, the applicant must pass the test with an 80 or higher.

Applicants are required to submit three recommendation letters. One must be from someone who trained you in riding. One must be from a Texas Tech professor that taught you. The final one may be from anyone you choose.

Following that comes the riding and driving portion of the process. This portion is in order to show your ability to run the patterns and tack up the saddle correctly so that it is most comfortable for him. One of the most import parts of the riding test is seeing the chemistry between the applicants and the horse. If an applicant doesn't mesh well with Fearless Champion it's highly unlikely for them to get the position. During the driving portion of the test they check your ability to hitch up a trailer and drive it well.

Afterwards is a 10 question essay portion where the applicant is able to state why they think they should be selected. Following that is the interview portion with the Masked Rider advisory committee filled with 15-20 people asking mostly scenario-based questions. There is more information about the tryouts here if you're interested.

At first glance it's a lot to put a student through. Why would they put students through such a big ordeal?

"It is a lot but I understand that they're giving a lot. They're giving the reputation of the whole program, the previous Masked Riders. They're giving a part of the reputation of the University to you. The Masked Rider is the second most recognized symbol for Texas Tech besides the Double T, so they've got to see if they can trust you... They have to select someone who will represent the University and be proud of what they represent."

Traveling as the Masked Rider is another reason the decision makers must trust the Masked Rider. Game day appearances at the Jones is only the start of the job. Since she started as the Masked Rider in April, Rachel has made 200 appearances so far and hopes to reach 250 by the end of her term in four months. The summer is the busiest time for Masked Rider appearances. Those summer appearances can be as standard as orientation or as unexpected as leading a wedding processional.

Since school started, most of the appearances have been local. Many of those local appearances are set up by McLelland herself; she's given a great deal of free reign if you will. This proactivity is one of the characteristics necessary to be an excellent Masked Rider. Another one of these essential traits is humility as well as the passion to do both the glamorous and non glamorous parts of the job with the same amount of effort.

This position is so unique to Texas Tech. It's a huge part of the university's culture and the culture of west Texas as well. Representing Texas Tech University is something Rachel McLelland does incredibly well. Speak with her for even a minute about Texas Tech and you will see her genuine love for the University and desire to represent it well. She can't help but boast on her school and tell others about her experience.

"Being the Masked Rider I've been able to tell people about that. I love it. I love Tech. I didn't realize I could love a school so much but I do. At an online high school there's no spirit, so here I wanted to go to a school that has school spirit and people who are behind it and are proud to go there. It's a special place for sure. Lubbock will always hold a special place in my heart and the position itself will always be special to me."

That is your Masked Rider: a genuine and proud ambassador for our school. The Masked Rider is an incredibly difficult position to uphold. With all the responsibilities and tasks entrusted to it, selecting a candidate can be very difficult but this past year they could not have selected a more worthy candidate. Thank you Rachel for your dedication to strive for honor evermore. Long live the Matador!