Midnight Matador, the 13th horse to ride for the Texas Tech Masked Rider program, will be celebrated during Saturday’s football game against Texas at Jones AT&T Stadium.
Midnight Matador is the longest-serving mascot in the program’s history, said Stephanie Rhode, director of the Spirit Program.
The horse’s retirement was announced Oct. 17 after it was discovered Midnight Matador had a leg sore.
The mascot will be accompanied by Masked Rider Ashley Wenzel at Saturday’s game, but will not make the traditional opening run.
“It’s something he’s not going to recover from for us to continue to use him,” said Sam Jackson, associate chair and associate professor of Animal Science, who works with the mascot. “He may recover totally. ... He may be injured again. He’s not any worse. We’re not worried about him being a normal horse. He’s running, playing, bucking. We ride him. It’s the intensity of the (opening) run.”
Raider Red filled in for the Masked Rider at the last home game Oct. 13, and led the team onto the field on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
How the team will be led onto the field Saturday is “a secret,” said Blayne Beal, associate athletics director of communications, in an email response.
Rhode said all 11 Masked Riders have been invited to attend the ceremony, and most are expected to attend.
The ceremony is expected to take place in the break between the first and second quarters of the game, according to Tech officials.
Midnight Matador will be available to pose for photos outside the Frazier Alumni Pavilion by 12:30 p.m., right after Raider Walk. The mascot continues to make its scheduled appearances, Rhode said, and is not in any pain.
The horse will be brought into the stadium after the team is on the field, Rhode said. There will not be a new horse present at Saturday’s game, she added.
“I think a lot of people, when a mascot goes out and makes the 150 appearances they do every year over an 11-year period, that adds up to a lot of people you’ve touched and had the opportunity to talk to about Texas Tech,” Rhode said. “A lot of people have formed a relationship with Midnight Matador, and I’ve been overwhelmed by people who have reached out who want one more picture with him, want to pet him one more time. Not only does he represent a school that they love so much, but they’ve formed a relationship with him.”
The Masked Rider Advisory Committee last week began reviewing options for selecting a new horse for the program. Rhode, chair of the committee, said she expects the group to meet again next week.
Jackson said he has ridden six or seven horse candidates and eliminated several others over the phone because they are too young, or the owners don’t want to sell them. He has at least two more horses to look at.
If a new horse is found, and Wenzel is comfortable with it, a new mascot might make an appearance at Tech’s last home game, Nov. 10 against Kansas.
“I don’t want to buy the first horse we find,” Jackson said. “I want to really exhaust the pool before I pick the best one. We’ve got two or three that have got potential. As we continue to test them in different environments, we’ll find out more. We’ve got some good prospects in the try-out stage.”
The committee also is discussing alternatives for a permanent home for Midnight Matador.
Jackson said the last few mascots have retired under unfavorable circumstances, and the program has seen “some bizarre stuff.” One horse had a trailer accident, one died in an accident in the stadium and one was killed in a lightning storm after retiring, he said.
The committee will work to find a good home where Midnight Matador will live out the rest of his days, Jackson said.
“More than likely, we’ll retire him to a former rider,” Jackson said. “That’s more than likely what will happen. We’ve got two or three that have expressed interest. We think that’s a suitable home because the riders have a relationship with him. We know how they are as people and what their interests (in the horse) are.”
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